When we arrived at the Visitor Center a little after 9:00 a.m., we were the only people there except a sheriff and the lady working the reception desk. A 28-minute introductory video gave us a glimpse into the events leading up to the march on the Alabama State Capitol March 21-25, 1965.
The ultimate goal of the march was to give equal voting rights to all. Southern blacks had been denied their constitutional right to vote since 1901 through poll taxes, literacy tests, and intimidation.
|Mural in Montgomery, Alabama depicting the march|
|All Americans are guaranteed a right to vote.|
On Sunday, March 7, 1965, 600 marchers wanting to peacefully walk to the state capital in Montgomery moved slowly up the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River in Selma. As the marchers reached the crest of the bridge, they saw below them "a sea of blue" -- Alabama state troopers blocking U.S. 80. Sheriff Clark's posse waited on horses. The marchers stopped a few yards short of the troopers. They were given two minutes to return to their "homes or churches."
|The cover of Life magazine on March 19, 1965|
The walkers began running back to the bridge, stumbling over each other and trying to ward off the blows. The troopers and posse continued to use nightsticks, whips, and rubber tubes wrapped with barbed wire to drive them through the streets of Selma. This event became known as "Bloody Sunday."
Dr. King called on the nation's clergy to come to Selma for another attempt to march. But Federal District Court Judge Frank Johnson issued an injunction against another march until a hearing could take place. Two days later, on March 9, approximately 2,000 marchers approached the state troopers at the site of Sunday's violence. The leaders kneeled to pray, then turned around.
A week later President Lyndon B. Johnson called on Congress to pass a voting rights bill; on the next day, Judge Johnson lifted the injunction against the march in Selma. Alabama Governor George Wallace refused President Johnson's request for state protection of the marchers. The president federalized 1,900 national guard troops and sent 2,000 soldiers and dozens of FBI agents and federal marshals to Selma to protect the marchers from harm.
On March 21 about 4,000 people set out from Selma.They marched until U.S. 80 narrowed to two lanes; then the march was restricted to 300 people. Most of this core group walked all 54 miles, stopping at four campsites along the way. Tents and restrooms were set up on the property of sympathizers with the movement. Volunteers cooked food for the group. On the 5th day, as they approached the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, their numbers swelled to 25,000.
State troopers barred marchers from the capitol steps. Governor George Wallace refused to see them. Speakers stood on a truck to address the crowd.
On August 6, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act which suspended literacy tests, called for the appointment of federal election monitors, and directed the U.S. Attorney General to challenge the use of poll taxes by states.
But laws cannot end bigotry. Lowndes County landowners evicted tenants who registered to vote. In December 1965, the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and Lowndes County leaders helped several evicted families set up a "tent city" off U.S. 80, then helped them find jobs, permanent housing, and new lives.
(Information in this article is from the Selma to Montgomery National Park Service brochure. Photos are mine, taken in the Visitor Center.)
The movie made me cry to see the violence with which the marchers were treated. I was also incensed that people's lives were tampered with for so long, in such a way that they did not have basic human rights as Americans, and were treated as second-class citizens or, heaven forbid, as cattle. Why would you use cattle prods on people? Shameful.
After our visit to the museum, we headed back to the campground and left about noon. On the way to Tallahassee, I tried to make reservations at RV parks for two nights. Come to find out, Florida State University was having their graduation ceremony this weekend. I was told by a couple of places that everything was booked up.
Beaver Lake Campground off I-10 about 22 miles west of Tallahassee was where we decided to stay. We have no problem driving our truck into the city. I read the reviews about Beaver Lake Campground and it sounded okay.
When we got there, we found it was good enough for two nights. There is a big grassy field and the RVs are lined up side-by-side facing opposite directions. There is 50 amp service so we could run both air conditioners. The lady in the Marathon gas station (where you check in) gave us a choice of site 8 or site 16 or 17. She kept trying to get us to take site 16 "because it's in the shade."
We paid for two nights using Passport America for both nights. (I had to search the RV for five minutes to find the P.A. card, which they require you to show to get the discount.)
Site 16 was the first site we went to, but a very dilapidated motor home was in that site, so we pulled into site 17 which is between two very old RVs that look like they haven't moved in decades. When I put down our stairs, there was a fire ant nest right there. Um, nope, not doing this site, even though it has nice shade.
Immediately we drove to site 8 and set up camp. I walked back to the Marathon gas station to let her know we had chosen site 8. Good timing. She was in the process of giving someone else site 8.
Saturday evening we drove into Tallahassee and had dinner at Red Lobster. After dinner, we scoped out where the Volksmarch started and where we would park. Easy peasy; the parking meters are free on weekends in Tallahassee.
That's all for today.