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Arts & Life

Selma-- "This is something I'll tell my kids..."

This Sunday the city of Selma will remember the fiftieth anniversary of an event that became known as Bloody Sunday. Voting Rights marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 were attacked by state troopers and a sheriff’s posse. History like this may be fresh in the memories of our parents and grandparents. But a group of student journalists from the University of Alabama got to experience the story for themselves. Alabama Public Radio newsroom intern Sarah Sherill was among them, and she files this report…

Asking directions in a strange town is never easy. My classmate Katie Shepherd and I aren’t looking for a restaurant or a hotel. We’re in search of history. We’re in Selma and we’re trying to find places like Ebenezer Baptist Church. That’s where long time pastor Dr. Frederick D. Reese first invited Dr. Martin Luther King Junior to come Selma in 1965. But, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Our trip began weeks ago during class at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa…

“One of the things I really love is getting out of the office,” says Justin Averette. He’s one of the editors of the Selma Times-Journal. He came to class with a question…

“How many of you are from out of state?”

Almost every hand went up, but mine didn’t. I’m from Decatur. But, the only stories I ever heard about the days of the civil rights movement came from my grandmother’s caregiver. She’s black and in her eighties, so was she was an adult when Bloody Sunday took place.

“My grandmother mentioned that she actually was in Selma, ” said my classmate Katie.  “But, I don’t think they participated…being white people. But I know that my grand dad was there for the stand in the schoolhouse door. And they were in Selma…”

“Back in January, we decided to do a commemorative edition on Selma…” Averette continued during his visit to our class.  He came to Tuscaloosa to get help covering the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Katie and I signed on to do interviews and write copy. That’s how we came to be asking directions from strangers in Selma. During the drive to Ebenezer Baptist Church, we did pass the man selling veggies out of his truck… Reese met us at the door. He was a gray suit. And, his deeply wrinkled face looked tired. It was a sharp contrast to the black and white photos of him in the 1960’s alongside Dr. King. He was jailed during the voting rights march…

“How many days do you stay in the jail?” Katie asked.

“I forget how many days I stayed in there,” responded Reese. “But, certainly we were in there several days. There were those of us who couldn’t sing as well as others. But, those who could sing . We would sing in jail, pray in jail, and hope something would happen.”

“I heard stories about while ya’ll were in the Selma City jail, that you refused to eat baloney sandwiches and collard greens, It that a true story?” Katie continued.

“That’s true,” said Reese

“Could you tell me more of that?” she asked.

“They were trying to indicate that because we were in jail, that our main food, collard greens and corn bread and so forth, so were determined to not eat the food they had prepared,” recalled Reese. “And then look forward to the time we were going to get out of jail, and eat of that good home cooked food.”

“It was…I mean who gets to do that?” said Katie as we drove onto our next stop. ”Who gets to interview the man who invited Dr. King to Selma. It’s humbling and I’ll never forget it in a million years. It's something I'll tell my kids.”

My story came next and the woman we’re talking to grew up among iconic images of the civil rights movement. Her name is Tracy Martin. Her father was Spider Martin. He was a news photographer who spent five weeks covering Selma and bloody Sunday…

“I would just see dad’s stuff in his studio for years, and I knew what I knew. But then there was all this new interest in it…” Martin says the opening of the Civil Rights Museum in Montgomery in the 1990’s put the spotlight on her father’s work. His photos include images of King giving speeches and the attack on civil rights marchers. Tracy says it was a far cry from the reception her dad’s pictures got in 1965…

“They didn’t want it in the newspaper anymore. They would sabotage his film so it wouldn’t even get the opportunity to get it in the newspaper…”

Spider Martin’s photos are now part of a photographic archive in Texas…

With the day drawing to a close, we made one last stop before heading back to Tuscaloosa. We went to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It forms what looks like a gray steel cage over the Alabama River. It seems strange that drivers go to and from work every day over such an iconic landmark. We walked the length of the bridge just as the voting right’s marchers tried to do in 1965. An official march is planned for Sunday, to remember the fiftieth anniversary of bloody Sunday.

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