by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
January 15, 2001
SOUTH'S TRAIL TO VOTING RIGHTS PASSED THROUGH SELMA
SELMA, Ala. -- Selma, Ala., is as familiar to me as Little Rock, Ark., or Dallas, Tex.
Things happened there. Terrible things happened there. The headlines are still fresh in my mind, the eventsforever cutting deeply into my heart and soul. Although not current, theyare nevertheless events happening in my lifetime, and my adult lifetime at that.
When do current events become history? I thought of that during this drive west when we decided to take the blue lines on the map and not the Interstate highways. With traffic lights bringing us to a stop every two or three miles, we had a chance to view the four corners of one small town and another.
The road through Selma was long famous as the route of Spanish explorer DeSoto, later known as well as U.S. 80 and now as The Voters Rights Trail. No ambiguity there.
A historic marker pays tribute to Viola Liuzzo, the Northern wife and mother of small children who joined in marching the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery only to be shot by four klansmen on her drive back to Selma.
There's a marker on the Edmond Pettus Bridge at the intersection of Broad and U.S. 80 where 37 years ago, police stopped the marchers. A death, a struggle, a bloody confrontation led to the battle known as Bloody Sunday.
This 54-mile stretch of highway is designated a National Historic Trail and also one of six "All-American" roads. That's a dual distinction that occurs nowhere else in the country. It was here on this old and ordinary road that two landmark events occurred: The entry of the Freedom Riders in 1961, and the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march, led by Martin Luther King, Jr, escorted by the United States National Guard, and eventually leading to voting rights for all Americans.
It's quiet, I thought, even on a dreary January day. The road doesn't appear repaved; rather looks as it must have when heroes marched and heroes died defending what is right. Traffic is heavy at the noon hour and drivers in the lanes on either side of us belie the fact that in the very recent past, they had secrets, agendas if you will. There is nothing to suggest this now. What's past is past echoes as the light changes. Ancient history, yes, but too fresh in my mind to be history.
Each year, the march is reenacted and on the 35th anniversary, President Clinton joined the marchers, along with Coretta Scott King and most of the townspeople. I see articles about this every year and there's always mention of it in calendars of Black History Month dates worth noting.
I skip over it. "I just read that in the paper," I say to myself, as if it were yesterday.
Continuing our drive, I saw a sign announcing the January 8th opening of The Tempest at the Shakespeare Festival - the Fifth Largest Shakespeare Festival in the World. It seemed so out of place.
Then, billboards almost shouting BATTLEFIELD INN are placed every few miles along the route until finally the Inn is annouced with HURRAY, YOU FOUND U.S.! And, indeed we had. We were by then in Vicksburg, Miss.
I want to say that name quietly. This little plot of land is definitely historic. During the Civil War, there was a battle at Vicksburg and now, from campaign to siege, it is dramatized in a 30-minute film scripted from diaries and letters written by townspeople and soldiers of the time.
To me, this is very sacred ground. When we drove through I could only reflect on the battle fought and lost, and know that today there is little here beyond what happened then. There's no seriousness when you're invited to the museum to handle battle artifacts "for your pleasure."
And, don't forget gambling boats "for fun." The signs offer Battle Ground Sporting Goods, Dry Cleaners, Super Market, Outlet Stores, Mall Shops. Battle Field is usually the identifier. Yet, the town is Vicksburg! And here in Vicksburg a battle was fought and men died. That's sad.
A sense of place grew around this small town. It has an up and coming populace now and is touting itself as the Red Carpet City of the South. The Convention Bureau is attracting visitors who want a close look at what happened here and at the same time experience Southern charm in the host city, and relax as "Ol' Man River" streams by.
As with so many things, it's a matter of viewpoint. The way I see it, I feel sad because of what happened here; the locals feel jubilant because something happened here and they're famous for it.
Well, we were just passing through and passing judgment isn't fair. However, the town appears to be making the Battle of Vicksburg a current event.
Now it's time for me to realize yesterday's newspaper headlines are history in the making.