“I was four or five years old when my parents’ friend, Dr. King, lived with us for several months in 1965 in our home in Selma. It was just a house with a mother, father, and a little girl quietly living our lives, then my father received a phone call at his office from Uncle Martin—he wanted to do a march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery. My father’s response was, ‘Martin, have at it. You do great marches and so many great things for this country and the world.’
My father came home and told my mother about this conversation. They looked at me sleeping in my bed, then looked at each other and agreed to offer their home, not knowing what would happen. Daddy told Uncle Martin, ‘Jawana and millions of other children deserve a better world. We will do whatever we can to help.’
About a month later, Uncle Martin and the world moved in. Our dining room table is the only table in the world that supported the first two African American Nobel Peace Prize recipients. Dr. Ralphe Bunch, who won the prize in 1950, traveled to Selma, and for two days and two nights, he and Uncle Martin held private meetings and ate meals at this table. Uncle Martin slept in the middle bedroom, and Dr. Bunch slept in the front bedroom.
Uncle Martin sat in a chair in our living room on March 15, 1965 and watched President Johnson give his speech to Congress pushing for the Voting Rights Act. At the end of the speech, President Johnson said ‘We shall overcome.’ That was President Johnson’s code to Uncle Martin: we’ve got this.
My mother said she never saw Uncle Martin cry, but that night she saw tears in his eyes as he watched President Johnson deliver the ‘we shall overcome’ speech. A photographer from Life magazine was there taking pictures.
I didn’t understand what was happening in our home because he was just my Uncle Martin, but today when I sit at our dining room table, I am grounded. This is a table where a family once had wonderful meals, but it also represents a table of peace for the world.
Over the years, I asked my parents: Did you really think this through? Did you know you were putting our family in danger? They always said, ‘Jawana, we knew we were in danger, but this was about people. This was about you, your future, and a better life. We had faith that Martin could help us get there.’
Our house was built in 1912, and was the home of generations of dentists in our family. It was filled with books and art and provided the spiritual, educational, and cultural foundations that helped Uncle Martin create a march that changed the country.
My grandmother told me stories about her grandfather always carrying a copy of the Constitution. She asked him why he carried the document and he said, ‘One day, this country is going to wake up, and this document is going to mean everything to all of us.’ He had faith this country was going to own up to the words that are written in the Constitution.
I graduated from Fisk University and moved to Atlanta to work for Mrs. King. I was Director of Visitor Services at the King Center from 1985 to 1995 and devoted a part of my adult life to Dr. King, unaware there was more to come.
My father died in 2004. My mother continued to live in our home until I suddenly lost her in 2013. Standing by my husband at her graveside, I promised her I would protect this house, its history, and the legacy of our family. I am an only child and grandchild, so it is on my shoulders to keep the story alive. I gave tours of the Jackson home from 2014 until this summer. I am hoping the right group comes in and takes it from here.
The house still looks as it did when Uncle Martin stayed there. His pajamas are still laid out on his bed, and the chair where he watched President Johnson’s speech is still in front of the TV.
This is the museum of a family with roots going back to before 1866 in Alabama and six generations who have contributed to the fabric and life of the state including education, health care, business and social justice.
I tell tour groups that this home weaves together the threads of family and community. I shutter every time I enter these doors and think that something built in 1912 continues to welcome people of good faith and good will. The one thing that I ask that people to take away from this house, wherever they go or wherever they reside, is to go back and try to make your community a little bit better place to live.
The news shows people spewing hate, hurt, and confusion. Uncle Martin recognized it more than 50 years ago and said, ‘If you see people killing and destroying, it is the language of frustration. It is the language of hurt. For those of us with love and peace in our hearts, it is our responsibility to keep it going. That is going to win the day.’”