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Lowndes County Interpretive Center
Highway 80 at Mile Marker 106
Hayneville, AL 36040
This amazing facility is dedicated to the march from Selma to Montgomery in general, but specifically focusing on the tent city that rose on this very ground after the Voting Rights Act was passed. Many black people were evicted by their plantation bosses and had to live in tents for months because they dared to register to vote, so a local organization bought up a few acres along US 80 and erected tents to allow them to stay in the county and remain together as families and a community.
Still feeling the time crunch, we tried to sneak past the vigilant greeter (a local chamber of commerce member who was a driving force behind getting the center open) and not watch the introductory movie but she shamed us into it, thus preventing us from making yet another mistake.
This film, which explained the history and reasoning behind the march, moved all of us to tears. From the first, aborted attempt to march to the state capital and demand equal rights, which ended in the violent clash known as Bloody Sunday, to the much larger, and nearly totally peaceful march that rose in its place, and lead directly to that Voting Rights Act, this powerful short movie should be required viewing in all high schools. Heck, it should be required viewing for every citizen of this country.
We were reminded again of what a great and powerful thing one vote, one voice is, and how it can not be taken for granted.
The rest of the museum was as sterling; clever interactive displays come to life as you approach them, with audio, video, and hands-on features showing everything from what it was like to live in a tent, to why it was so important to keep the vote from the blacks (95% of the land was owned by 85 people, all white, and much of the labor was done by poor black people; to let them be enfranchised meant to lose money), to a small door with a photo of a happy, healthy Emmitt Till which opened to a photo of his mangled corpse.
Outside is a large park with a pathway where you can learn more about the tent city and even sit at one of the picnic tables to enjoy the quiet countryside (which it is, despite the highway nearby).
This should be an absolutely required pit stop; we were all three ashamed in varying degrees about how little we really knew about this moment in US history, a moment where peace and justice triumphed over evil. We were so moved that we wanted to drive back to Selma, to Brown Chapel from where the march commenced, and to the bridge where the first marchers were attacked, to take the time to really consider what had happened, and to honor those people. The photo of the first marchers, standing straight and strong as the troops come at them is one of saints whose march could not go on at that moment, but they were saints and martyrs, make no mistake.
And then there was this quote in that tremendous video from Martin Luther King Jr. himself: “If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.” That’s the lesson we are trying to take from all of this; sometimes, it’s all so huge, what needs to be done, but you do what you can…just keep moving.
There will eventually be two more of these facilities, one in Selma and one in Montgomery, each covering a specific aspect of the march. Rick and Mary can’t wait to come back to see them both.
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