Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day 9: New Orleans, LA - Selma, AL - Montgomery, AL

Miles today: 350
Total: 2100

After an early morning start from NOLA, we traveled five hours to Selma, AL. Selma is most famous as the site of Bloody Sunday, in which marchers headed over the Edmund Pettus bridge (named after a Confederate war hero, by the name) on their way to demand justice at the state capitol in Montgomery where they met a violent mob on the other side. This history, along with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, is told in detail at the National Voting Rights Museum. It's a great site, but it's name obscures its purpose. It is proudly a local museum, created by locals to remember the "foot soldiers" of the movement - those folks who no one else would likely remember. Sam, our tour guide, led our students around the museum for the third year in a row, and I'm happy to report that the museum is expanding and will soon have a site on both sites of the Pettus bridge. Visitors will then be able to visit the current site, march over the bridge, and tour the new site, which will include a new space to commemorate President Obama's election.

The National Park Service is developing the Selma-to-Montgomery Trail, which currently includes the Lowndes County Interpretive Center. While we arrived too late to tour it this year, it's on our future agenda. Lowndes was the site of much violence in the movement [including the murder of Viola Liuzzo, a white woman from Detroit who the Klan killed as she was transporting an African-American man back from the march's end in Montgomery]. Organizers created a Black Panther party in Lowndes County when neither the Republicans or Democrats wanted to recognize Black voters following the 1965 Voting Rights act.

For a wonderfully complex reading on the impact of Viola Liuzzo's murder, consult Mary Stanton's From Selma to Sorrow, which I will be teaching in a course on activism in the South this fall. Black in Selma provides a history of the life of lawyer/activist J.L. Chestnut. For more on the Panthers, formed by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, CA (1966), check out Curtis Austin's Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party.

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