In the course of civil rights class and our journey, we meet numerous “keepers of history.” These are people whose lives and stories give life, in the here and now, to what we read and what we watch in our study of the civil rights movement. The importance of these “keepers” cannot be overstated. They influence how we think about and analyze the American history of the time. They were influential in the death of the “Jim Crow System.”
The first photo shows the SMU pilgrims with four of these “keepers.” There is, of course, Joanne Bland. Reverend Rankin has written eloquently about her in his dispatch. Joanne selected the backdrop of this photo. “We just have to take a picture in front of the Plantation,” she said.
To her right is the aunt of our trip coordinator, Ray Jordan. She is known affectionately as “Aunt Stick.” From her we learned that segregation reached into the filing system of doctors. There were separate filing cabinets and medical files for black and white.
To the right in the first row are Coach Lawrence Huggins and his wife, both teachers in the segregated school system of Selma during the 1960s. “Coach Huggins” was a leader of the teachers’ march for voting rights, and there is a famous photograph of Sheriff Jim Clark, the symbol of Selma’s segregationists, shoving a baton into the abdomen of Mr. Huggins.
The second photo (below) is from our dinner in Montgomery. To the left in the bottom row are Reverend Robert Graetz and his wife, Jeannie Graetz. Reverend Graetz was a Lutheran minister in Montgomery during the bus boycott. He was one of the very first white ministers to participate in the boycott. His activism was not silent but open. As a result, the Graetz home was bombed twice during the months of the boycott.
To the right in the photo is Dr. Velda Montgomery and her mother, Mrs. Vera Harris. The Harris family lived on the same street as Dr. King and his family. Their history is the history of Montgomery. Their father and husband, a pharmacist, coordinated the drivers during the boycott. In 1961, the Harris family gave refuge to the Freedom Riders after they were beaten at the Montgomery bus station. In 1965, Dr. Montgomery joined the march from Selma to Montgomery.
These “keepers of history” give meaning to the accounts of historians. Their stories enrich and deepen our understanding of the times. Most importantly, their character, faith and willingness to share their experiences help us understand the inner strength required to kill Jim Crow.