As a college student, Jim Hall marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr from Selma to Montgomery. Hall: Here are some of my memories: the warmth of our welcome by local African Americans, the organizational geniuses who, on the fly, fed us and moved us around, and the goodwill by everyone associated with the march. I also remember a few conversations with local whites who often seemed somewhat bewildered, often angry, but sometimes quietly supportive. I do remember one man, after a short conversation, having heard my Texas/Southeastern New Mexico accent, saying to me, ‘Hey boy, with that accent, what are you doing here?’ Courtesy photo
I was privileged to be on the historic march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965.
I was completing my senior year at Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn., and had closely followed the civil rights struggle. After the violence in Alabama in early March against civil rights demonstrators, and the subsequent scheduling of a federally protected march from Selma to Montgomery to protest voting rights discrimination in the South, several of us at Minnesota colleges traveled to Selma to participate in the march and demonstrate our solidarity with voting rights protests. The organization sponsoring the trip managed to rent a bus for five days (given the news reports, bus companies were somewhat reluctant) and I signed up to go, then went to talk to my professors. As I remember, we left Sunday, March 20, 1965.
We arrived in Selma March 21, 1965, and received training in non-violent tactics and what we might encounter from local people and/or local authorities. Having lived in Texas and southeastern New Mexico I was familiar with southern culture and discrimination, so the numerous cautions and concerns seemed less surprising to me than to many other students. We stayed in a local African American church, slept on pews or the floor, and marched on the 22nd and 23rd. For me, the most memorable parts of the actual march were the camaraderie, the optimism, the bravery of local African Americans, and walking beside Pete Seeger for a couple of miles.
On the morning of the 23rd, there was a call for volunteers to help build a platform at St. Jude Catholic Hospital in Montgomery. The platform was to be used on the afternoon and evening of the 24th prior to a short final march to the state capital on the 25th. Having worked construction in college, I volunteered, and about eight to 10 of us were taken to an African American funeral home (!) in Selma. It turned out we were to build the temporary stage using coffins as a base with sheets of plywood nailed or screwed onto the coffins as the stage.
We loaded up the material in a box truck and left for Montgomery after supper. The undertaker and an assistant rode in front—the rest of us rode in the rear of the truck with the door rolled up. Since the truck was nearly full, we students were either sitting or standing at the very back of the truck in the open doorway. I remember watching cars come up behind us in the night and knowing what they were probably thinking about these “outsiders”, and I remember the relief when a police car fell in behind us outside of Montgomery.
We arrived at the hospital grounds about 8 or 9 p.m. and proceeded to work on the platform in the truck’s headlights (it seems to me we had an off and on drizzle to “help” us). Sometime before midnight the driver was advised not to drive back to Selma that night, so after a while we slept in the back of the truck or in some spare coffins turned on their sides (my coffin was dry and relatively comfortable), although there was always one person on watch. We got up early on the 24th and went back to work. Later other workers arrived, and I caught a ride back to Selma just in time to catch the bus back to Minnesota. I missed the performances that night, the final march on the 25th and Martin Luther King’s speech, although I did cut the speech out of the St. Paul paper. A copy can be found here.