Special to the Democrat:
John Zippert, Co-Publisher
There are many exciting and challenging events at the Bridge Crossing Jubilee, each year, but the event that I consider best is the ‘Foot Soldiers Breakfast’ held on Saturday morning at R. B. Hudson School on Summerfield Road in Selma.
The Foot Soldiers Breakfast is coordinated by Charles Mauldin, JoAnn Bland and Richard Smilee, who themselves ‘foot-soldiers’ and are veteran participants in the Selma Voting Rights Movement starting in 1965. Their goal is to bring back actual participants in the “Bloody Sunday March” and related marches that were part of the Selma Movement and resulted in the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.The Foot Soldiers Breakfast presents the testimonies of persons who participated in the history-making events in Selma. Many of the past breakfast speakers like Amelia Boyton Robinson, Marie Foster, Attorney J. L. Chestnut and others have passed onto glory.
Leroy Moton, a 19-year-old African-American man who accompanied Viola Luizzo, when she was killed on Highway 80 in Lowndes County by Klu Klux Klansmen at the end of the Selma-to-Montgomery March was to be the main speaker at this year’s Foot Soldiers Breakfast.
Due to illness, Leroy Moton, was unable to attend. Deanna Morton, his sister, who now resides in South Carolina attended and gave his story and her own. She said, “the car carrying the Klansmen passed Ms. Luizzo and her brother, on Highway 80, which was two lanes at that time. The car turned around and came back and found the car that Luizzo was driving. The Klansmen fired into the car killing Luizzo. Moton was alive and covered in blood but pretended to be dead until the Klansmen left. When they left, he flagged down a car to get help.”
Deanna Morton said as a 14-year-old girl she marched on Bloody Sunday. She said, “ When we came across the bridge, I never saw so many troopers in all my life; but I was willing to give my life for freedom. We learned how to outrun horses, cattle prods and billy clubs that day. I ran back across the bridge and hid behind some buildings.” She thanked the teachers at R. B. Hudson for supporting the young people.
Moton also said she was present for the ‘Turnaround Tuesday’ march which was led by Dr. King after Bloody Sunday. King agreed to turn around on the bridge because he did not have an official permit to march and he did not want to risk another beating of the marchers. Dr. King and SCLC later secured a permit and Federal protection to march from Selma to Montgomery later that month. Viola Luizzo was murdered on Highway 80, together with her brother – Leroy, in the aftermath of the successful march.
John Moton, another foot soldier said, “Do not make up excuses for not voting. We marched in the rain, in the mud and in the sunshine for you to have the right to vote.”
Richard Smilee said, “When I was on the bridge in 1965, you knew God was there. We were not afraid. We were looking forward to a brighter future. Tell the young people, the millennial to stand up; that your vote counts. Stand up for what you believe even if the current President wants to send us back. We will not go back!”
Willie ‘Mustafa’ Ricks, a SNCC worker who was in Selma for the voting rights campaign said, “ We are still catching hell. The Black man is still on the bot tom. We have been raped and robbed but we still have to keep marching. Bring your children and grandchildren to march. Revolution is the answer not giving people food stamps. Africans must be united!’
Herman Johnson said after SNCC workers came to the school to organize us, we marched from his high school school in Marion Junction to Selma (about ten miles) to participate in the movement.
Calvin Thomas, another foot soldier said he was arrested in Selma and taken to the old National Guard Amory. “There were too many people there so the took us to a camp in Thomaston. They let the prisoners out of the camp to watch us and put us in the camp.”
Horace Huggins, a retired teacher, commented on the January 21, 1965, ‘Teachers March’ in Selma. “This is the forgotten march, when 200 teachers from Selma and Dallas County marched for voting rights. Very few teachers took part in the movement for fear of loosing their jobs, but many teachers walked in this march to support the right to vote.
Joel Ellwanger, a white Lutheran minister from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, reported on the march of 72 concerned white people on March 6, the day before Bloody Sunday, who marched in support of Black people in downtown Selma. Ellwanger has written a book about this march.
There was so much to learn at the Foot Soldier Breakfast about the depth and breath of the Selma voting rights movement. I am planning to go again next year!