I am certain the Pilgrims of 2011 will write about our dinner and discussion with the Graetz and Harris families this evening in Montgomery, Alabama. Our time together was remarkable – from the “standing ovation” given these “keepers of history” upon their arrival to the hugs and tears as our time together ended.
One highlight of the evening was the announcement that Dr. Valda Harris Montgomery has published her memories of growing up in the Montgomery of the 1950s and 1960s, titled Just a Neighbor. Dr. Montgomery, a faculty member at Alabama State University, was 8 years old when the bus boycott began in 1955. She was 13 when her family clandestinely housed the “Freedom Riders” after they were attacked at the Montgomery bus station in May of 1961. She was 17 when she participated in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march and later expelled from St. Jude’s Catholic High School. She was subsequently “reinstated” and allowed to graduate through a decree of the Archbishop of the diocese. We learned that not only did she hear Dr. King speak on numerous occasions but that she also, as a neighbor, babysat his children, Yoki and Marty (as she affectionately calls them). Her story is both informative and fascinating.
The SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage has visited with Dr. Montgomery and her mother for several years. And here is a wonderful connection. First, one of what academics call “endorsements” or “blurbs” for this book was written by Ray Jordan, our pilgrimage coordinator. Second, a book typically begins with an Acknowledgment page, and Dr. Montgomery’s first sentence in this section reads: “I would first like to extend gratitude to the students of Southern Methodist University (SMU) for the suggestion to put my memories on paper.” As several of this year’s Pilgrims remarked – “how cool is that?”