Selma to Montgomery – a challenging drive

Posted May 27th, 2011 by

Sharon and I didn’t plan the timing of our journey to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. It was while watching the amazing film Freedom Riders on PBS (as of this writing you can still watch it online here) on May 16 that I realized the timing. Sharon and I drove from Atlanta to Birmingham ten days after the 50th anniversary of the actual ride. The horror of what those brave people were subjected to by white thugs (in uniform and out) is both enraging and heartbreaking.

We spent the morning of May 25th finding the grave of James E. Leslie, the white man she believes was the father of her great grandfather. We then drove on to Selma where we drove over the Edmund Pettus Bridge where the police brutally stopped a peaceful march by black Alabamians wanting to exercise their right to vote in 1965. At the National Voting Rights Museum we listened to a man describe the terror and injustice in very personal terms — he was eleven years old at the time and was arrested and thrown in jail twice at that tender age.

We drove back toward Montgomery and stopped at the Selma-to-Montgomery Trail Interpretive Center, operated by the National Park Service. This is a wonderful facility for people to learn the significance of what happened and the impacts that continue to reverberate today.

And it’s hard. The whole day was hard. When Sharon asked me how people like James E. Leslie could own other people, how other white people like him could terrorize black people after slavery ended, I have no answer that is satisfactory. It is, as Sharon says, unfathomable. The further we travel the more I understand the mistrust, anger, and downright hatred many black people have had (or continue to have) toward white people. This is a subject I know Sharon and I will deal with more deeply and directly in our book.

We concluded our day by meeting with, and interviewing, Georgette Norman. She’s the director of the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University; another wonderful resource for learning (especially for children). Our conversation with Georgette, followed by a tour she gave us of the facility, helped put a lot of what I was feeling into perspective. Sharon and I were both grateful that we ended our day sharing two hours with Georgette.

This was Sharon’s and my most challenging day so far. There are more to come. This is as it should be. It helps us achieve the goals we have for our 5,500 mile road trip together.

We arrived in Natchez today; the first of six days in Mississippi. I’m glad we’ll spend Memorial Weekend here. There is much to remember and much to consider.

6 responses to “Selma to Montgomery – a challenging drive”

  1. Tom and Sharon, You are deep in my home land of the South now. I am so with you in spirit, and wish I could be with you in body, deep in thought, feeling, conversation, and hopefully healing. Please bring me there with you in your minds and hearts.

  2. Trey Price says:

    Hello to you both. My name Is Trey Price and I live near Natchez and work their daily. My friend works at Longwood Plantation and said he met you two and gave me your card. I am interested in your work as I am one who is exposed to racism on a daily basis. I am a white man and my significant other is a woman who is half black and half white. Since we are an interracial couple, we get looked down at often and even have to confront people because of their comments. Our journey seems to be an ongoing thing and we are very passionate about equality. I would love the opportunity to speak with you while you are in Natchez, however if you are busy, I understand.

  3. Esther says:

    by black Mississippians wanting to exercise their right to vote in 1965

    I am sure this is a typo, but the march was in response to the murder of an Alabamian, and although the people who marched across that bridge
    came from various states, it would certainly not be correct to exclude Alabamians.

  4. June says:

    Sorry I didn't know Selma was in your itinerary because I could have connected you up with good friends who live there and would have been too happy to have you over to their house and show you around Selma and introduce you to some folks who were natives of Selma.

  5. Thank you for a great post.

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