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My Mom and Dad, Patricia and Sandy MacLean,  participated in several efforts towards fair housing and civil rights locally in Rhode Island in the 1960’s.  But Mom was able to participate in two events farther away: the March on Washington in 1963, and the last leg of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.  The March on Washington story was told in a previous post.  The Montgomery story, below, is much darker, and more complex.

Mom and Dad gave me a booklet given to them by Dad’s brother, a Unitarian minister, in the period following the march.  The Unitarian Universalists had a special interest in the Selma to Montgomery march because they had sent three ministers to Alabama for the march and only two returned alive.  Their book is called “To Bear Witness” and presents a mostly pictorial essay about the march, and its meaning.  Unfortunately I cannot reproduce the photographs here but I will include some snippets from the book and from a talk my mom wrote when she returned home.

To Bear Witness

The March from Selma To Montgomery, Alabama, 1965

Despite the 1964 Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson, voting rights denials and segregation problems were escalating in Alabama and other places.   Selma was a particularly oppressive location with fewer than 1% of blacks in the county registered to vote, and the struggle to register voters was centered there.  Violence or arrests by government officials in response to nonviolent protests were common, sometimes with deaths resulting.  The death of voting rights demonstrator Jimmie Lee Jackson in February  prompted the call for a march from Selma to the Alabama capital, Montgomery, to request protection for voter registration.

Sunday, March 7

On March 7, 1965, about 600 people marching from Selma to Montgomery, the state’s capital, in a voting rights protest, were brutally attacked by state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.  Called “Bloody Sunday”, the images of that day were broadcast widely to a shocked nation.

Two of the march leaders, John Lewis, today a Congressman from Georgia, and Amelia Boynton, lifelong voting rights activist, were at the front of the march, and among the first to be clubbed.  The image of Amelia laying dazed or unconscious on the street that day was a call to all Americans.  This website tells the story of Amelia Boynton in the About and Video sections.  The short video about Amelia’s amazing life was very moving.

[from To Bear Witness:] On Monday, March 8, 1965, Martin Luther King sent telegrams to many religious groups in North America. He sent one to the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston:

“In the vicious maltreatment of defenseless citizens of Selma, where old women and young children were gassed and clubbed … we have witnessed an eruption of the disease of racism which seeks to destroy all … It is fitting that all American help to bear the burden.  I call therefore … join me in Selma … In this way all America will testify that the struggle in Selma is for the survival of democracy everywhere in our land.”

With the nation, Unitarian Universalists responded.

Tuesday, March 9

On Tuesday March 9, a larger group was in place but was unable to have more than a prayer ceremony at the bridge due to a restraining order.

[from To Bear Witness:]  THE TRAGEDY.  On March 9, after being turned back by Alabama’s troopers on Route 80, Martin Luther King said, “Let’s return to church and complete our fight in the courts.”  But Selma’s time of trial was not over.  That night James Reeb, Orloff Miller, and Clark Olsen ate a quiet supper at Walker’s Cafe.  As they walked away, a group of white men ran toward them, shouting, “Hey, niggers!”  All three ministers were beaten from behind.  Jim Reeb was clubbed across the side of his skull.  He died two days later.

The march into Montgomery, Thursday, March 25

On Thursday, March 25, with their First Amendment rights reaffirmed in a court decision, the march finally made its way to the end of the 50-mile walk to Montgomery, and was joined by as many as 25,000 people from all over the country.  The call had gone out for support leading up to that day, and many thousands responded.  The job was to bear witness – to stand next to those who were being violently and systematically attacked on all sides.  To dare the “officials” with the clubs to beat, gas, and imprison hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of Americans who demanded the right to vote for all Americans.

The civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.  Photo by Peter Pettus.  Library of Congress  LC-USZ6-2329

The civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Photo by Peter Pettus. Library of Congress LC-USZ6-2329

Mom’s story

Mom gave a talk at her church when she returned to Rhode Island.  The first and last paragraphs, below, are from a different talk mom gave, at her current church, in 2003.  The rest are from the 1965 talk at her church in Warwick.

I responded to the call.  The R.I. Council of churches chartered a plane.  We drove to Boston and flew out of Logan airport late at night.  We arrived in Montgomery in early morning. The airport was crowded.  Black people with cars were waiting to drive us to the place where the marchers were to assemble.

We waited more than 3 hours to start the march in the muddy fields at St. Jude’s School, where the marchers had camped the night before.  We were tired when we started.  The group from Rhode Island fell in near the end.  Thousands had gone ahead of us.  As we went out through the gates and into the Negro community, six abreast, women on the inside, I immediately forgot how tired I was.  I will never forget the faces of those people.  They waved to us and we waved back.  Every house had a front porch and from them old people and children smiled at us.  We passed a school where every window was filled with children and their teachers.  Several times I heard “Thank You” and “God Bless You.”  One of the spectators brought out a jar of water and it was passed back from hand to hand.  We sang “We Shall Overcome” and the words seemed to have a great deal of meaning — “Black and white together, we are not afraid, we shall overcome.”

We were divided into small groups for the day, to stay together and watch out for each other.  My group included my friend Avis Stone, Rabbi Rosen from Hillel House at Brown University, and Rev. Homer Tricket, minister of the First Baptist Church in America in Providence, R.I., founded by Roger Williams.

We marched for an hour and a half.  As we left the Negro section there was a minister standing at the edge of the road, holding a little sign.  It said – “Keep Smiling.”  We tried to keep smiling but it wasn’t easy.  Some of the white people looked at us with outright hatred in their eyes, even the children.  Some laughed at us, some made remarks, but in all fairness, not many.  There were a few confederate flags in evidence.  Many of the white people looked to me as if they were simply amazed by it all.

We climbed the hill to the capital and over it we saw the Confederate flag and under that the flag of the State of Alabama.  No American flag.

At the rally we could not hear the speeches very well.  It was hot and it had rained on us three times.  The last time no one bothered to put raincoats on – it felt good.  I saw tired marchers sleeping in the street.  Finally Avis spread her coat down on the street and said “Here sit down.”

We moved up closer to hear Dr. King speak. When he was finished we were warned to be extremely careful going back to the airport. We walked down the hill past hundreds of Alabama National Guardsmen and boarded buses which took us back to the airport.  The bus took us again through the Negro section.  The people waved goodbye to us as we went along.

Participants, some carrying American flags, marching in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Photo by Peter Pettus.  Library of Congress LC-USZ62-133090

Participants, some carrying American flags, marching in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Photo by Peter Pettus. Library of Congress LC-USZ62-133090

I arrived home at about 4 a.m.  When I got up at 7:00 and turned on the news, I heard about the death of Mrs. Viola Luizzo.  She also had left her home and children to go to Montgomery.  She had gone to help with voting registration.  She was riding with some black people in a car after the march and she was shot.

The march from Selma to Montgomery and what took place on the Edmund Pettis Bridge changed the hearts and minds of America.  Because of television we could see the senseless violence and brutality.

It is noteworthy that at both marches, Mom ran into my Dad’s brother, Kenneth Torquil MacLean, a Unitarian Minister.  Each meeting was a surprise and, particularly at the March on Washington, an incredible coincidence considering the huge crowd that day.

In conclusion

The idea of bearing witness, of showing up, of noticing a wrong … of throwing so much light on something by the mere fact of thousands of eyes witnessing it … is a powerful one, then and now.

The most wrenching pages from To Bear Witness show, on facing pages, an atmosphere that Mom described well:  a photo of a group of 6 whites on a sidewalk, the adults with arms folded in front of them and sneers that look centuries old, the teenage boy with a newer, less practiced, and somehow more tragic, sneer, facing, on the opposite page, a photo of an old house and porch with about 15 black children dangling their feet over the front edge, shod in white socks and school shoes, looking a little scared, with three or four black adults behind them looking hopeful, with a hint of triumph.

To Bear Witness contained some amazing and moving photographs; you can view some of them in a special gallery on the website of one of the photographers, Ivan Masar.

There are many more pictures of the Selma voting drives and the attack at the Pettus Bridge as well as the several-week struggle to finish the march to Montgomery on the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement website.

Several months after these events, the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed into law.

Sources

MacLean, Patricia L.  Address to the Warwick Congregational Church, Warwick, R.I., Spring, 1965.  Published here with permission of the author.

MacLean, Patricia L. Presentation to the First Presbyterian Church, Holland Patent, NY, January 19, 2003.  Published here with permission of the author.

to bear witness: Unitarian Universalists from Selma to Montgomery.  Boston: published by the Department of Adult Programs, Unitarian Universalist Association, 1965.

The post you are reading is located at: http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2013/09/24/to-bear-witness-montgomery-1965

This was the second post of a two-part series.  The first post, Mom and the March on Washington, is here.

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50 years ago, my mom, Patricia MacLean, got on a bus in Providence, Rhode Island with a friend and traveled all night to attend the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, on August 28, 1963.  Mom and Dad felt that each person has just one life, and should be allowed to live it to the best of his or her ability.  They believed in justice and equality. They wanted the world to be a better place.  They still do.

The early 60’s

Mom and Dad had watched the civil rights movement in the 1950s as their four children were born, they bought their first house in suburban Rhode Island, and dad worked hard at one and sometimes two jobs to support us.  In the early 1960’s they joined some members of their church in taking a stand in the local movements for fair housing and civil rights.

Mom says that during the day, it was mostly the women who were available for picketing at the state house about the fair housing bills then under consideration by the state legislature.  So when the word was put out about sending buses to the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom, it wasn’t hard for Mom and Dad to decide that mom had better go, since Dad was working.  She went with Joan Cunningham, Albert Garner (the minister), and many others.

Mom still has the brochure about the call to march.

Mom still has the brochure about the call to march.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963

Mom told the story of the march in a presentation to her current church in 2003:

In 1965 the organizers of the March on Washington sent a message:  “We call on all Americans, regardless of race or creed to join the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom, to restore economic freedom to all in this nation, to blot out once and for all the scourge of racial discrimination. The time is now.”

Bus leaving near the Washington Monument, after the March on Washington, 1963. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko. Library of Congress Photo LC-DIG-ds-00835

Bus leaving near the Washington Monument, after the March on Washington, 1963. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko. Library of Congress Photo LC-DIG-ds-00835

I responded to the call because I wanted to be part of righting a wrong.  The NAACP rented four buses for the marchers from R.I.  We left Providence late on Tuesday evening, August 27. We were told to bring food and water. I remember I wore a green dress and sandals.  We rode through the night, dozing a little but not really sleeping. We had no idea what lay ahead of us.

At dawn our bus pulled into Washington.  The capital district was deserted except for hundreds of buses parked in the streets.  President Kennedy had left town.  All the government offices were closed, as were the museums.  We gathered on the grounds of the Washington Monument, about 250,000 people.  A sea of people, black and white, young and old, priests, ministers, rabbis and nuns, students, families with children, and men from the United Auto Workers wearing their union caps.

I remember Joan Baez standing in the back of a pickup truck with her guitar, singing an old union song “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” in her beautiful clear voice.  A roar went through the crowd when a bus arrived from Mississippi. The people from Mississippi had great difficulty renting a bus. It was a dangerous trip for them.

Demonstrators sit, with their feet in the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, 1963. Photo by Warren K Leffler. From Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-00834.

Demonstrators sit, with their feet in the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, 1963. Photo by Warren K Leffler. Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-00834.

The march began its slow move down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the Lincoln Memorial. I will never forget looking up at that great statue of Abraham Lincoln, and singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

I wish I could tell you I was right up in front when the speeches began, but I wasn’t.  I stood and listened to Marion Anderson sing the national anthem, but after that our group found a place in the back of the Lincoln Memorial where we could sit on the grass.  The sound system was excellent.  There were many speakers: A. Phillip Randolph, Director of the march, Whitney Young of the National Urban League, Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the NAACP, Dr. Benjamin Mays, President of Moorehouse College, and John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who is now a congressman from Georgia.  I wish I could remember what they said, but I don’t.

Souvenir booklet sales table at the March on Washington, 1963.  Photo by Marion S. Trikisko. Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-37235

Souvenir booklet sales table at the March on Washington, 1963. Photo by Marion S. Trikisko. Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-37235

Then Dr. King spoke.  Tired as I was, I knew I would never forget that moment.  And I never forgot.

We went back to Rhode Island determined to make a difference.  We fought for six years to pass a fair housing bill.  We wrote letters, picketed the State House, held teach-ins, and formed a racially integrated group.  We decided to integrate the Warwick City Park, a suburb of Providence.  We all brought our children and had a picnic on Sunday and went swimming.  We got no reaction at all.

A. Philip Randolph and other civil rights leaders on their way to Congress during the March on Washington, 1963. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko.  Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-37241

A. Philip Randolph and other civil rights leaders on their way to Congress during the March on Washington, 1963. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko. Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-37241

Back at home

My memories of mom’s trip are pretty vague, but I definitely remember looking for her in the television coverage of the crowds.  Recently my brother sat in as Mom, Dad and I discussed all this.  He is a little older, and remembered that there were neighbors you might mention this to, and neighbors where you wouldn’t. 

Mom bought an LP album of some of the March on Washington speeches and enjoyed listening to them, which is a memory we share. It’s also a memory that my daughters share with her.

As the years went on, Mom and Dad continued in their belief that everyone deserves respect and a fair chance and they acted on that in many ways large and small.  It’s the most valuable family legacy of all.

Sandy and Pat MacLean

Sandy and Pat MacLean

This story is part one of a two part series.  The second part concerns Mom joining the Selma march as it neared Montgomery.

Sources

MacLean, Patricia L. Presentation to the First Presbyterian Church, Holland Patent, NY, January 19, 2003.  Published here with permission of the author.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2013/09/22/mom-and-the-march-on-washington


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I am attending the Federation of Genealogy Societies Conference in Birmingham, Alabama this week.  Day One, Wednesday, was mostly devoted to society sessions and activities.  While interesting, I thought 2-1/2 days of genealogy sessions would be overwhelming enough, so I made other plans.

I hoped to go to the nearby Linn-Henley Research Building at the Birmingham Public Library and pursue some research on my ancestors that spent some time in Tuscaloosa before the Civil War.   I also hoped to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute if I could manage it.  In many ways, the Civil Rights Institute would be a very personal family history journey since my parents took part in several aspects of the civil rights movement.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

So I spent the morning at the Civil Rights Institute.  Once inside, no pictures are allowed.  I learned the story of the struggle for basic human rights that took place in the deep south over a period of 400 years, from slavery into its aftermath.  Birmingham was, famously and tragically, an extreme example of oppression and hatred based on race.  Government, controlled by whites after Reconstruction, made sure to use the law to legitimize the customs they preferred.   Basic rights of citizens, such as voting, were denied to many blacks in the south.  After World War II, what was unacceptable became unbearable.  Nowhere, perhaps, was the struggle more difficult or monumental than Birmingham.  It is no wonder that Birmingham was the focus of many efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King.

And Birmingham had its own powerful leaders in the fight, including Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. The struggle fought issue by issue, for voting, riding buses, eating in restaurants, getting government jobs, education … without the federal government stepping in at many times, and the efforts of attorney Thurgood Marshall to make that happen, success would have been in serious doubt.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth

As I learned more about the civil rights activities of the early 1960’s I felt a deep connection to the struggle that was playing out in the exhibit.  My mom had participated in several of those events.  My parents had a vision about the world and tried to live it (still do, in fact).  My memories of those years include, as a 5 or 6 year old, looking at the news on our black and white television with my brothers and sister “looking for mommy,” to see if we could see her in any of the large crowds.  As I stood in the museum I was that little girl again, looking for mom in the 20 foot image of the March on Washington, or the pictures of protesters in buses.

What I hadn’t expected was that as I was looking at images from 1963, I was also wondering about my family’s history of 1863 when some of my northern family spent about 20 years in Tuscaloosa.  I thought of my great great grandmother Emma Lamphere, who was a little girl during the civil war and experienced the hatred and violence of that era.  Could she ever have pictured her great granddaughter (my mom) returning to Alabama 100 years later to help to bring some peace and justice to those that (I suspect) Emma felt should be oppressed and marginalized?  Legacies are never as simple as we would like them to be.  I had to admit that I have connections to both sides of this dreadful fight.

I left the museum newly determined to learn more about the Tuscaloosa portion of my family history.  I passed the 16th Street Baptist Church, site of one of the many Birmingham bombings of places used for civil rights gatherings, and Kelly Ingram Park, where young protesters were treated brutally by Birmingham police in 1963.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, site of one of the many Birmingham bombings. Although many will remember that four Birmingham girls were killed that day, fewer know that two teenage boys were killed by gunfire on the same day, one by a policeman and one, randomly, by a white teenager who was sentenced to six months in prison. No one was brought to justice for the bombing until 40 years later.

I arrived at the Linn-Henley Research Building at the Birmingham Public Library around noon and spent the afternoon there.  If any FGS attendees were missing from the conference, they were surely here.  The rooms were filled with researchers.

Linn-Henley Research Building at the Birmingham Public Library

There were more Alabama resources there than I had ever seen.  Shelves and shelves of local histories, some of them privately published or reprints of university theses. There were several large sets of compiled indices that I had only heard of, never seen before.  I spent hours looking through them.  I turned up very little directly about my family, other than some evidence of Confederate Soldier service by two of my gg-grandmother’s brothers.  But I was able to photograph an entire hundred-page book containing three accounts of the 1865 experience of the city of Tuscaloosa, for examination later.  With little direct evidence to go on, I will start the real research with learning about Tuscaloosa.

The main reading room at the Linn-Henley Research Library

All in all, I wonder if my visit to the Civil Rights Institute didn’t teach me more about my family history than any library could.  That, and meeting up with my fellow bloggers, who I am now realizing can be reliably found in the hotel bar each night.  Those conversations were wonderful.

The post you are reading is located here:  http://wp.me/p1JmJS-KN

Now, on to conference sessions!  The next post in this series is found here.

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