Selma to Montgomery March Camps topped List of Threatened Sites

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (AP) – Selma’s historic 1965 voting rights march to Montgomery did not take place in a single day: participants spent four nights camping along the approximately 55 mile road ( 89 miles) across Alabama, sleeping in tents and near farm buildings under the watch of guards to prevent white supremacist attacks.

Now threatened by decades of weather and wear and tear, the campsites used by these walkers are among the country’s most endangered historic places, according to a new assessment from a preservation group. The sites, along with 10 other locations in nine states, require immediate attention or may be lost, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation nonprofit.

Three of the campsites are private rural land along the U.S. 80, which connects Selma and the capital, and the fourth is the town of St. Jude, a Roman Catholic complex where walkers spent the night before thousands of no one follows Reverend Martin Luther. King Jr. at the Alabama Capitol on March 25, 1965, to demonstrate in favor of black suffrage.

The walking route is different today than it was 56 years ago – what was then a two-lane road is now four-lane, with increased traffic and new construction. While leaving the details of the preservation to the families who own the camp land and local authorities, the trust sheds light on the sites and others at a time when voting rights and racial justice are once again a national issue. .

“These 11 places celebrate the interconnectedness of American culture and recognize it as a multicultural fabric that, when put together, reveals our true identity as a people,” said Paul Edmondson, president of the Washington-based organization, who publishes a list of endangered species. places every year.

Other places on the 2021 list include:

  • Trujillo Adobe, the remains of a nearly 160-year-old Latino settlement in Riverside, California.
  • Summit Tunnels 6 & 7 and Summit Camp Site in Truckee, Calif., Which tell the story of the Chinese railroad workers who built the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s.
  • Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home in Camilla, Georgia, once the state’s only Black-owned birthplace for African American women.
  • Boston Harbor Islands, archaeological and historical sites on 34 islands off the Boston coast.
  • Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Order of Moses Cemetery and Hall, a historic black settlement dating from the late 1800s in Cabin John, Maryland.
  • Home of Sarah Elizabeth Ray, a black woman and activist who started a legal battle after being denied entry to a separate ferry in Detroit in 1945.
  • The Riverside Hotel, which housed 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 welcomed black travelers on Route 66, and family farm in Luther, Oklahoma.
  • Oljato trading post, built in 1921 and one of the few remaining Navajo trading posts in the area around San Juan County, Utah.

Selma’s march to Montgomery began two weeks after Alabama state soldiers beat protesters trying to leave Selma on a day that has been called “Bloody Sunday.” The Selma sites and the Montgomery Highway are now part of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.

Under surveillance by members of the Alabama National Guard, protesters first stopped about 7 miles east of Selma on land owned by David Hall, a black farmer who was at risk of harassment by white neighbors annoyed by the walk. A photo of the walkers showed them gathered around a fire built in an old metal drum for warmth, and Hall’s granddaughter Davine Hall said visitors always stopped.

“Sometimes we go out and there’s a whole court of cyclists, people who have stopped and want to take a ride,” said Hall, who divides his time between family land and California. “Sometimes they actually ask if they can get through the night.”

The following rainy night, they stayed on Rosie Steele’s property, followed by a stay on land owned by Robert Gardner, where Tuskegee University students provided dinner and walkers slept on air mattresses. pool, many of which deflated overnight. Gardner’s daughter, Cheryl Gardner Davis, was 4 at the time and still remembers the crowds and noise.

A white neighbor threatened her father for welcoming the walkers, she said, and for years the family have been silent about the experience.

“I remember my dad telling us that we couldn’t go anywhere alone, that we always had to have an adult with us. He said if we saw a car along the road, the FBI was watching us, ”Davis said. “It was a little scary.”

This undated photo provided by the Conservation Fund shows the family home of Robert Gardner, who left participants at Selma’s Montgomery Voting Rights March Camp on his land near Selma, Alabama, in 1965. A new one An assessment published in 2021 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation claims that four campsites used by walkers nearly 60 years earlier are at risk of being lost without efforts to save them. (Courtesy of the Conservation Fund via AP)

Dozens of walkers spent the night along the path, and their numbers increased exponentially by the time the walk reached downtown Montgomery.

While the families who own the campsites have had little contact over the decades, planning is underway to preserve the homes that stood on the Hall and Gardner sites in 1965 and possibly turn them into educational locations, said Phillip Howard, a Birmingham area consultant working on the project with the Conservation Fund.

On the last night of the march, about 3 miles from the Alabama Capitol, protesters camping in the town of St. Jude were entertained by stars including Harry Belafonte; Tony Bennett; Pierre, Paul and Marie; Sammy Davis Jr. and Joan Baez before the final leg of the trip. The chapel has remained there more or less as it was then.

Today near the Capitol, a historical stone marker recounts the events of 1965, when King spoke to around 25,000 people at the end of the march. Plain steel signs identify the campsites used by walkers along the way, but there isn’t much else to signify their importance.

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