When the civil rights movement came to Marion, they said to involve the children. My dad made sure his Howard kids were some of the first

March 6, 2022
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When the civil rights movement came to Marion, they said to involve the children. My dad made sure his Howard kids were some of the first

When the civil rights movement came to Marion, they said to involve the children. My dad made sure his Howard kids were some of the first

“I was a kid in the civil rights march. I grew up in Marion in a family of 12. My dad owned 101 acres and was a cotton farmer. He had a fourth-grade education and my mom had a sixth-grade education. I don’t know how they came to own that much land, but they were hard workers. All of us worked on the farm and picked and chopped cotton. We worked for ourselves and were better off than the people in the city limits, but I didn’t understand that. 

For Christmas, they bought us a big box of apples and oranges. They gave us nuts and candy. For Easter, we learned speeches to say in church. The Blacks around us were proud people and made the best of the way things were. I admired them so much 

My t-shirt says “Marion, Alabama Where It All Began.” The reason you are talking to me today is because of my dad. When Martin Luther King, Jr. came to town, my dad thought the world stood still. He thought Martin Luther King, Jr. could walk on water, and he believed in him. Coretta Scott King also grew up in Marion. 

When the movement came to town, they said to involve the children. My dad made sure his Howard kids were some of the first. My first memory of getting involved with the movement was 1965. We were at school when James Orange came to Marion with a movement talking about freedom. We were teenage children ready to go, so the whole school walked off campus. We went to town fired up and singing. We entered the drugstore, and V.J. Elmore and Nathan Harris stores. This time we were going in and sitting down at the counter.

We were kids who didn’t have a clue, but I look back and realize we were making history. I was more worried about the trouble I was going to get into at home. We were breaking laws and all of the rules my mama taught us. Mama was a southern belle and we didn’t embarrass her by doing something we weren’t supposed to.

They rounded us up and put us in the fence at the jail down the street. We were obedient children and did as we were told. Our school buses lined up and they told us to get on with girls in one bus and boys in the other. We boarded the buses singing and laughing. We were happy because we were with our friends, but deep down I thought I was in trouble. They took us to Camp Selma, a prison. There were a few adults with us. I was relieved when a lady told me that my dad would be proud of me. 

We stayed in the shotgun houses that they kept the prisoners in. There was one toilet and a washtub with water and a dipper. We climbed up the radiator to look out the window. We were still singing and clapping and having a good time. But morning turned to evening and evening turned to night. The first day there was no food. There wasn’t enough room, so we lay on each other on the concrete floor. 

We heard that our parents and Martin Luther King, Jr. had decided to leave us there until the officials said that we had to go. That meant we had to eat the prison food of cold, lumpy grits, or black eyed peas, bad cornbread and water.

We were there for three days. They called out names as parents arrived. The prison almost emptied out, but the Howard kids’ names were never called. Everyone else was gone, I didn’t want to stay a fourth night. I climbed up on that radiator again. I saw my uncle getting my cousin out and asked him to take us too. When I got home, my dad was watching TV and I thought, I’m going to hate him for the rest of my life. But later I began to understand what he had us fighting for.

Soon after that, we attended a meeting at Zion Methodist Church. It was darker than usual that night because someone turned the lights off in the square. There wasn’t even a star in the sky. We came out of the church and mean people were waiting outside with sticks, cattle prods, and billy clubs. They started beating and harassing everyone leaving the church. We were chased all over town. When my family left the church, a white man reached for my dad and tried to hit him with a stick. My dad ran out the back of the church and into the Black funeral home next door. He slept there that night and Mama got us home. 

Jimmy Lee Jackson was shot that night and died in Selma a few days later. That got people’s attention. The movement was moved from Marion to Selma with plans to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In church, Dr. King said, ‘We are going to lose people, but this is the way we have to do it.’ I was 14 and didn’t understand, but I knew my dad was going to make us go across that bridge.” 

Jeanette Howard-Moore, Part One

 

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