March 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
Today I go to speak to students at King Middle School. They are interviewing citizens who were involved in the civil rights movement in the 50’s and 60’s and I participated in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. The students at King Middle School come from many different countries. The demographic of Portland, Maine has changed dramatically since I first came to the the city in the late 70’s. Since the Vietnam war era, Portland has been designated as a refugee resettlement community on the east coast. Some of the young people I will meet this afternoon will undoubtably have their own memories or their families’ collective memory of civil strife. That seems important for me to consider as I remember events that happened in Alabama almost 50 years ago to the day.
What remains burned into memory of important historical events? I remember sun and rain and singing–mostly singing. I remember being happy I was away from NYC and the interminably long winter and I remember being frightened walking through a white, suburban neighborhood with other white demonstrators and ending up in front of Mayor Joseph Smitherman’s house. As we were arrested, I remember hearing Wilson Baker, Selma’s Public Safety Director, say after listening to our wobbly white version of We Shall Overcome that, “At least when we arrested the nigras, we had good singin'”. I remember we lived on baloney sandwiches and cartons of orange drink for two weeks. I remember sitting in Mr. and Mrs. Bell’s home in the Washing Carver Homes one afternoon and eating sugar on white toast and drinking black coffee and watching Governor Wallace on T.V. I remember the kids wanting to play demonstration and they would be the troopers. I remember the sound of helicopters as the long march to Montgomery finally unwound from Selma. I remember Martin Luther King’s words flung out over the crowd that the arc of the moral universe is long and bends toward freedom. I remember catching a flatbed truck with my friend Shawn and all the women and children having to crouch down as we drove through Lowndes County, the same stretch of road that hours later Viola Liuzzo would be shot and killed as she ferried marchers back to Selma from Montgomery. I remember Miss Annie Vickers and her friend, the Deacon, inviting Shawn and me to her little house for a southern meal of fried chicken, collard greens, black eyed peas, cornbread, coffee and peach cobbler all prepared on a little cast iron cookstove and Shawn and I sitting on her bed in the living room. I remember the Deacon standing by the door in his white pressed shirt and Miss Vickers saying that we had answered the Macedonian call. I remember feeling safe and the rain on the tin roof. That’s what I remember. That and the singing.