As a senior at Carver High School in 1965, Mary Dean Williams was looking forward to graduation, but the chances of marching across that state seemed very slim. The local Civil Rights Movement had gained momentum.
Mrs. Williams-Mack recounted the following: “Life as we knew it was quickly changing and you could feel it in the air. Yet reality hovered over us like a dark cloud. We were marching through the streets of Eutaw for freedom, but we would not march across our high school stage in our caps and gowns to receive our diplomas.”
During the Greene County student movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Eutaw. He visited with the students at First Baptist church and assured them he would give them a graduation ceremony they would never forget. And he did. On May 30, 1965, the Carver High seniors traveled to Selma for their graduation exercises held at Brown Chapel AME Church. Dr. King delivered the commencement address and presented each senior with his/her diploma. A reception followed at the Elks Club across from the Selma jail.
Ms. Allen was a senior at Carver High School in 1965. From her account: “Students from Eutaw and surrounding schools came together to participate in demonstrations in what became the Civil Rights Movement in Greene County. We shocked the conscience of the people of Eutaw as we pushed to abolish segregation here at home. We were a part of a movement and we only wanted to have an opportunity for a better life.” As a senior, Mrs. Allen was also looking forward to graduation as one of the class salutatorians. She shared the following: “ …I was one who greatly anticipated giving my speech at the graduation ceremony. But no one anticipated what happened here. My dream of giving my graduation speech and participating in all the other events that normally take place prior to graduation came to a standstill.”
In her reflections of that early Movement period, Ms. Murray states that she can so vividly recall how life was for them and events of the protest.
“ I can close my eyes and see us in Eutaw not able to sit in the Dairy Queen; sitting in the balcony of the movies, not allowed to sit in the main section; and I can see the unthinkable cruelty directed at us united in the struggle for freedom.” She recounts how her mother, Rosie Bee Edwards hummed spirituals as she prepared sandwiches and meals for the marchers.
Many of the movement organizers stayed at her mother’s house in the projects, and when the manager found out that they were staying and working out of their house, her family had to move. Ms. Murray sadly stated that her mother was never recognized for accommodating the Civil Rights workers; her name does not appear on the plaque in from of First Baptist Church.
Additional stories of youth in the local Civil Rights Movement will continue next week.