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Saving historic Selma voting rights landmarks

Jackson House
Alabama Public Radio

The voting rights marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma back in 1965 are iconic moments in civil rights history. The attack on demonstrators known as “bloody Sunday” led to the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Now, sites related to the Selma marches is getting some much needed attention. Doctor Martin Luther King, junior planned the demonstrations at what’s now known as the Jackson House. During the march to Montgomery, the activists slept at three campsites. Both the Jackson home and the first of the overnight camping spots are now privately owned and efforts are underway to keep them alive. APR Gulf Coast Correspondent Lynn Oldshue has more on work to preserve this piece of history.

“It was after the second attempt to do the march that he was made aware, that there was nowhere for them to stay because everyone else had been threatened,” said DaVine of her grandfather, David Hall.

Selma Commemoration Harris
Brynn Anderson/AP
Vice President Kamala Harris marches on the Edmund Pettus Bridge after speaking in Selma, Ala., on the anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," a landmark event of the civil rights movement, Sunday, March 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

He provided the first of the three campsites the Selma to Montgomery marchers used in 1965. Hall was also maintenance man and a farmer. He grew corn, sugar cane greens, tomatoes, and okra on his eighty acres. Campsite number one is seven miles from the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Land says her grandfather offered because he thought the march was important.

“We have heard people say that if it were not for him, they don't think the march would have happened,” recalled Hall.

Hall says her father kept his participation in the march a secret from his family because he didn’t want to put anyone in danger. But they say he acted to help them have the right to vote.

“The foot soldiers gathered around, and some of the tents, from what we know, are on that side of the property, which is still family owned. All of the acres are still in the family, for eighty two years.”

David Hall’s home is also where Dr. King spent the first night of the 1965 voting rights march. It’s still standing, but needs repairs on the roof and floor. The family wants to open the home and land for tours that tell the story while keeping the surrounding rural community in peace.

John Lewis
FILE - Alabama state troopers attack voting rights demonstrators in Selma, Ala., in this file photo from March 7, 1965. Despite being known worldwide as a beacon of voting rights, the city and surrounding Dallas County had one of the worst voter turnouts in Alabama for the 2020 presidential election, and some are trying to increase voter participation. (AP Photo/File)

It’s about the ability to have the civil human right to vote. It’s about you being considered equal and having a choice and that’s what he really wanted.

And the nation is taking notice. The National Trust for Historic Preservance named the three campsites among America’s most endangered places last year. Raising awareness of these stories and protecting the sites became the mission of Phillip Howard who grew up in Selma and is now Manager of the Forgotten Civil Rights People and Places Program at The Conservation Fund. In 2021, he produced the documentary 54 Miles Home to let the families tell their own stories.

“There are only three campsite families in the world, and they are the stewards of this history for all of this time,” said Howard. “We're trying to find ways to help them and protect this and bring more awareness to the story.

Howard estimates it will take $15,000 to preserve the Hall home. His goal is to have the homes at campsites one and three restored by the 60th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. He is bringing all of the families to the table for the first time to decide how they want their stories told and their family represented.

“One of the things that I am very proud of is we have not asked the families for one dime,” said Howard. “They sacrificed enough by allowing the marchers to stay on their property. If they never did anything else, they've done enough. The Selma to Montgomery March changed the world. If it were not for the campsite families, it probably would not have happened.”

“I was four or five years old when Dr. King lived in this house with my parents, said Jawanna Jackson. “And did I understand what was going on? Absolutely not.”

Jackson House tour
Alex AuBuchon

And then, there’s Jawanna Jackson’s story. Phillip Howard is also working with her to help preserve her family home and its role in the Selma marches. The Jackson house was the primary headquarters for Doctor Martin Luther King, junior as he planned the voting rights protests. was built in 1912 and passed down through the family of dentists. Jackson was four at that time and called Dr. King Uncle Marty.

“Dr. Ralph Bunche, who won the Nobel prize in 1950, traveled to Selma to meet with Uncle Martin, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about the upcoming march,” said Jackson. “For two days and two nights, these two Nobel peace prize recipients held private meetings and ate meals right here at this table.”

Phillip Howard is working with her to help preserve her family and its role in the marches. The house still looks as it did when Dr. King stayed there. His pajamas are laid out on his bed, and the chair where he watched President Johnson’s speech to congress is still in front of the TV.

King LBJ seat
Alex AuBuchon

But this summer, Jackson may have given her last tour of the home. She says it is time to let someone else take over. Phillip Howard is also trying to help her find the organization that is the right fit.

“It is one of the great civil rights homes in Alabama and really the country,” said Howard.

Howard hopes that preserving the farms and homes of the Civil Rights movement around Selma gives people a chance to visit where change happened and to touch history.

Lynn Oldshue is a reporter for Alabama Public Radio.
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