Upon our arrival in Selma I was shocked by what I saw. Buildings on the streets were in desperate need of repair, yet I could see that Selma was once a beautiful city full of life. As I looked for someone to talk with, I found a couple who agreed to give me a few minutes of their time. I asked what it was like growing up during the Civil Rights Movement in Selma? They told me that things have changed but remain the same. How could that be, I asked? Ms. Gracie Powell said, “we knew our place back then; we couldn’t go to certain parts of town, schools were segregated and the only available jobs were one that whites didn’t want. The white teenagers went to Selma High, and blacks went to Hudson High. The whites had the best books, supplies and teachers. We had very little to learn with. When the schools finally integrated we went to Selma High and the white parents of moved their kids into private schools and built a brand new Parrish High. As we walked to school we had to cross to the other side of the street when we met whites and even the poor whites called us niggers and the upper class whites treated them the same as us. Today the schools are still segregated.”
Even though there are still segregationist in Selma, both races seem to get along. The city now has a black mayor and five blacks on city council. Eighty percent of the population in Selma is black, but whites are still in control. As long as this continues things will always be the same. “During the movement we won our freedom to vote but we don’t know how to use it. The only way things will change is through educating our future generations, said Powell.
I also spoke with a Vietnam veteran and posed the same questions to him. Mr. Joseph Harris told me the city was very much divided when he left at the age of seventeen to join the army. At that time he could not vote. I asked if he had any reservations about going to war for his country and not being able to vote? He told me of a white man he met in his platoon and how they became best friends after the guy told him that his parents taught him to hate all black people. He left to get away from the hatred that he faced daily but upon his return the struggle was larger. The Ku Klux Klan would hold marches from Parrish High to downtown Selma. He had to restrain himself because the Klan jeered him with the words nigger and coon, threatened to kill him. The Klan was very noticeable, and there was no one to control them because most of them were police, politicians, teachers and whites from all walks of life. His brother was arrested, thrown into jail, and afraid because the jailers could do whatever they pleased inside, and no one cared. Martin Luther King, Jr. ended up in the cell next to his brother, and as he spoke to the marchers who were also arrested, he and the other inmates felt a calm come over them. It changed his life, he said.
I read about this in the Freedom Riders, but to actually talk to people who witnessed it, made that information seem more real. I appreciate even more what these warriors did and will never take for granted the freedom that I have because they gave their lives for us all. As I sit here writing this blog, I am convinced that the only way that we as a nation can repay them, is to keep their memory alive by continuing the fight to make sure that all citizens regardless of race, creed or color are treated equally.