Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march campsites thought of endangered


Congressman John Lewis, who led the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965, hopes the new film “Selma” can inspire a new generation to accept nonviolent civil disobedience in order to bring about change. (January 8)

Story highlights

  • Three African American farm owners along the Mile Route offered their properties as campsites.
  • These campsites are threatened with destruction or irreparable damage.
  • Inclusion on the National Trust for Historic Preservation list could be a turning point.

The 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery marked a turning point in the struggle for black Americans’ voting rights, but it would not have been possible without a few helping hands.

Three African American farm owners along the 54-mile route offered their properties as campgrounds for the protesters on the four-day hike, and hosted iconic civil rights activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King and John Lewis.

Fifty-six years later, these campsites are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and were named one of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places in 2021.

The stories of these campsites “didn’t get widespread,” said Katherine Malone-France, chief preservation officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, USA TODAY. “I think it’s important that we tell these stories, and it’s important that we tell the whole, true history of our country in historical places. If we do that, monument preservation will be an effective tool for advancing justice and justice. “

A picture of the David Hall Home, located along the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama. (Photo: Phillip Howard)

Reconstruction of the campsites

Three of the campsites along the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail are owned by the same families, including Rosie Steele Farm, David Hall Farm, and Robert Gardner Farm. The fourth location is the city of St. Jude, a Roman Catholic complex.

Phillip Howard, a Birmingham area consultant working with The Conservation Fund on the project, is working on conservation plans for historic homes on Hall and Gardner farms. He said the houses were dilapidated and everything from floor to roof needed repair.

The original goal is to stabilize the two buildings – Howard estimates the cost could be between $ 300,000 and $ 400,000 – before extensive renovations and converting the two sites into educational facilities.

Families are “ready and willing to tell the story of these campsites in ways they have never done before,” said Howard. “They want to keep the houses, get the land, visit people, educational trips – anything to tell the story.”

He hopes the houses can be restored by 2025, the 60th anniversary of the demonstration that led to the passage of the voting rights law.

“(This is a story of) Americans who want to make a difference and put themselves and their families at risk,” said Howard. “It’s a story of people who loved America when America didn’t necessarily love them, but they wanted (more rights) for their children.”

Howard is looking for funds to keep the houses up. Their inclusion on the National Trust for Historic Preservation list could fundamentally change their endeavors; Malone-France said since the nonprofit’s first list was published more than 30 years ago, it has lost less than 5% of the 300+ locations at risk since then.

History of the March from Selma to Montgomery

The march from Selma to Montgomery began two weeks after Alabama state soldiers beat demonstrators who tried to leave Selma on a day later known as Bloody Sunday. Selma sites and the Montgomery route are now part of the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail.

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Under the supervision of members of the Alabama National Guard, the protesters initially stopped about seven miles east of Selma on land owned by David Hall, a black farmer who risked harassment from white neighbors who were upset about the march. A photo of protesters showed them gathering around a fire built in an old metal drum for heat, and Hall’s granddaughter Davine Hall said visitors are still stopping by.

“Sometimes we come outside and there is a whole yard of cyclists, people who came over and wanted to take a tour,” said Hall, who divides the time between the family country and California. “Sometimes they actually ask if they can spend the night.”

They spent the next rainy night at Rosie Steele’s property, followed by a stop at Robert Gardner’s property, where Tuskegee University students served dinner and protesters slept on donated pool air mattresses, many of which were deflated overnight . Gardner’s daughter Cheryl Gardner Davis was 4 years old at the time and still remembers the crowds and the noise.

Voting rights movement: How the death of a black man in 1965 changed American history

A white neighbor threatened her father to welcome the demonstrators, she said, and the family had been silent about the experience for years.

“I remember my father telling us that we had nowhere to go alone, that we always had to have an adult with us. He said that if we see a car along the road, the FBI is watching over us,” said Davis . “It was a little scary.”

Cheryl Gardner-Davis, left; Elizabeth Steele-Davis, center; and Mary Hall-Mcguire, right, stand in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The photo shows the members of the three families who had housed people on their campsites when they marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. (Photo: Phillip Howard)

Dozens of protesters spent the night en route, and their numbers grew exponentially as the march reached downtown Montgomery.

On the last night of the march, about three miles from the Alabama Capitol, protesters camped in the town of St. Jude were entertained by stars like Harry Belafonte; Tony Bennett; Peter, Paul and Maria; Sammy Davis Jr. and Joan Baez before the final leg of the trip. The chapel there has been preserved as it was back then.

Today, a historic stone near the Capitol commemorates the events of 1965, when King spoke to an estimated 25,000 people at the end of the march. Plain steel signs mark the campsites used by the demonstrators, but there is little else to signal their importance.

America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2021

Other sites on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2021 List of Endangered Historic Sites include:

  • Trujillo Adobe, the remains of an early Latino settlement nearly 160 years old in Riverside, California.
  • Summit Tunnels 6 & 7 and Summit Camp Site in Truckee, California, which tell the story of Chinese railroad workers who built the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s.
  • Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home in Camilla, Georgia, once the only birthplace of black-owned African American women.
  • Boston Harbor Islands, archaeological and historical sites on 34 islands off the coast of Boston.
  • Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Order of Moses Cemetery and Hall, a late 19th-century historic black settlement in Cabin John, Maryland.
  • Home of Sarah Elizabeth Ray, a black woman and activist who started a lawsuit after being denied access to a separate ferry in Detroit in 1945.
  • The Riverside Hotel, which was home to black blues musicians and others during the Jim Crow era in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
  • Pine Grove Elementary School, built for black children by philanthropist Julius Rosenwald in 1917 in Cumberland, Maryland.
  • Threatt Filling Station, which served black travelers on Route 66, and family farm in Luther, Oklahoma.
  • Oljato Trading Post, built in 1921 and one of the few Navajo trading posts in the San Juan County, Utah area.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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