Our day started at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

This is the site of the famous fountain designed by Maya Lin (same artist who designed the Vietnam Memorial.).

It would have been a good place for contemplation. But there was a school group there at the same time we were there. It was noisy, crowded and hot. We were here to see Mark Potok. He is the director of the center. I was relieved to know that someone is still fighting  hate crimes. They take on cases that involve groups who don’t have any representation, like illegal immigrants, abused women and children, mentally and physically challenged students. They are the ultimate idealists. They live their convictions and it’s nice to know they exist.They fight hate crimes, which have been rising since 2000.  There was a spike in crime in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected. I wrote my name (electronically) on the wall of tolerance.

I signed the wall of tolerance at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery.

An interesting thing happened at lunch. . .

We had a conversation with an 84-year-old resident here. She told us her version of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

An 86 year-old woman in the Downtowner Restaurant whose cheeks were painted a bright pink, like two circles on a china doll, wanted to talk to us. She walked with a cane and was with a younger woman. Both women were very interested to know why we had come to Selma. We were hard to miss, arriving in a giant Greyline Tour bus.  They had hoped we’d come to town to see the beautiful homes in Selma.

Framed Confederate 50 dollar bill at the Downtowner Restaurant in Selma.

But, perhaps my tie-dyed T-shirt gave me away. It soon became clear to the woman that we were here to see the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of two famous events: Bloody Sunday and Turn Around Tuesday. The woman started out talking about Selma’s beautiful historic district and the wonderful renovations that had taken place. But as she talked, she trailed off into a reverie. She said she and most of the other town’s folk had nothing to do with “that mess” that took place out on the highway. She said outsiders had come into town and brought “all that mess to Selma.” She insisted that there was no (race) problem in Selma and they all got along fine. She said they prayed and that they knew God loved all the children: yellow, black and white and they are precious in his sight. We were very polite and all agreed that Selma was a beautiful town and we would see the sights.

There was great irony in her speech. She all but wagged a finger at the four of us sitting at the table (one of whom was very Christian). I believe she did not see the black folks in Selma. She clearly felt confident that she spoke for the whole population when she said they had no racial problems in Selma.

This is the site of Bloody Sunday, 1965.

Yet, we soon learned that only 300 blacks were registered to vote in Selma in 1965. Immediately upon leaving the restaurant, we went to the Selma “foot soldiers”  Voter Rights museum where we met Sam (I didn’t get his last name). Sam runs a museum dedicated to preserving the memories of the “foot soldiers” of the Selma freedom march. There were plaster casts on the walls of feet to represent the foot soldiers.  Sam herded the group into a corner of the museum and proceeded to give us a rousing lecture on the fact that voting rights were meted out to groups in minorities: first white men, next black men, then women over age 32 (?), then every citizen 18 and up. I’m not too sure of his facts but the point was clear. He stood under hot spot lights mopping his head with a white terrycloth towel. It certainly added a dramatic touch.

Forty men and women died during the Civil Rights movement. Two who were killed in Selma were Unitarians. They were UU Minister James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, a mother-activist who was shot in the face for transporting marchers back to Montgomery. It is the sight of some of the worst violence in the Southern Voter Rights struggle.  Just one hour before, a woman, who proudly proclaimed that she had lived in Selma since she was 4 years old, and was now 86, was SURE there never was any problem with race in Selma. She was blind to it then and is still blind. It could not have been a better illustration of the point of the whole trip.

What the white women called that “mess” down on the highway, the black people called “the struggles.” We then silently walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We stopped at an sad little park, mostly it is a parking lot containing three monuments to leaders of the Selma struggle. These are engraved black granite encircled by a chain Probably the most moving monument was a granite stone engraved with the words, in remembrance of those who suffered and died and remain unknown.

Catherine Burke-Brooks remember that white women would stand on the sidelines and scream “Kill them niggers! Kill them niggers!”

We left Selma and headed back to Montgomery for dinner at Dreamland BBQ.  There Marci Finklestein and I talked about the reality that antisemitism is still the most prominent type of racism as quoted by the Southern Poverty Leadership.

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