The House By The Side Of The Road: The Selma Civil Rights Movement

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During the 1965 Selma voting rights campaign, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. set up informal headquarters at the home of Dr. Sullivan Jackson; his wife, Richie Jean; and their young daughter, Jawana. Dr. Jackson was an African American dentist in Selma, whose profession gave him some protection from economic reprisals, and he was one of the movement’s prominent local supporters. Richie Jean was a childhood friend of King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, who had grown up in the nearby town of Marion, and the King, ...

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The House by the Side of the Road: The Selma Civil Rights Movement

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During the 1965 Selma voting rights campaign, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. set up informal headquarters at the home of Dr. Sullivan Jackson; his wife, Richie Jean; and their young daughter, Jawana. Dr. Jackson was an African American dentist in Selma, whose profession gave him some protection from economic reprisals, and he was one of the movement’s prominent local supporters. Richie Jean was a childhood friend of King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, who had grown up in the nearby town of Marion, and the King, Abernathy, and Jackson families were all very close.
In the dramatic and tension-filled months of 1965 that led up to the Voting rights March from Selma to Montgomery, King and other national leaders, including Ralph David Abernathy and John Lewis, held strategy sessions at the Jackson house and met with Assistant Attorney General John Doar to negotiate plans for the march. One of the most dramatic moments of that time occurred on Monday, March 15, when President Lyndon Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress. Huddled with his aides in Jackson’s living room, King was watching the speech on television when the president issued his call for a national dedication to equal rights for all.
When Johnson ended his speech with the words “We shall overcome,” King’s lieutenant C. T. Vivian looked across the Jackson living room and saw the mark of a tear on Dr. King’s cheek. Nobody in the room had ever before seen King weep. They had seen him worried or fretful, sometimes depressed, and more often they had watched him lead with humor and courage, his emotions always carefully in check. But on this night, as they sensed that the voting-rights victory was near, and as the president of the United States seemed to be adopting their cause as his own, King finally let his feelings flow.
This book is a firsthand account of the behind-the-scenes activity of King and his lieutenants—a mixture of stress, tension, dedication, and the personal interaction at the movement’s heart—told by Richie Jean Jackson, who carefully created a safe haven for the civil rights leaders and dealt with the innumerable demands of living in the eye of events that would forever change America.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

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“This book tells the story of a place, a time, and a people whose struggle and sacrifice helped this nation create a more perfect union. The house by the side of the road became a haven from the hostility raging all around us—from threats, jailings, beatings, and even death itself. It was a necessary stop for so many activists, and it is a necessary read for anyone interested in the Selma Movement.”—John Lewis, congressman from Georgia

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“The experience in Selma during the voting rights campaign would have been much more stressful and probably intolerable except for the gathering in the Jacksons’ home. This home, so full of love and warmth, gave us perseverance, patience, and determination to continue the day-to-day efforts to finish the task. . . . Thank God for this loving, faithful family. Their significance to the effectiveness of the movement is a tale that’s never been told. They put their own safety at risk to serve the common good.”—Reverend Joseph Lowery, former Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) President

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“The House by the Side of the Road is a fine glimpse into history, not just the civil rights era, but . . . the personalities of this era. It is the opposite of melodrama. It describes, in an almost nonchalant way, the rocks found on the porch (‘but didn’t even break any windows’) and how a KKK parade in front of the house ‘made only one pass.’ Because of this book, we know that the Rev. King’s cold was treated with red onion, honey, lemon, and ‘several teaspoons’ of whiskey. I love these details.”--Rick Bragg, author of All Over but the Shoutin’ and Somebody Told Me

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817316945
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 3/4/2011
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 706,307
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

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Born in Mobile, Alabama, Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson is a retired housewife still living in Selma, Alabama. Ms. Jackson earned a Bachelor of Science in secondary education at Alabama State College and a Masters of Education at the University of Montevallo.

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Read an Excerpt

The House by the Side of the Road

The Selma Civil Rights Movement
By Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson


Copyright © 2011 The University Of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-1694-5

Chapter One

The Blueprint of My Life and the House

There is a single thread going through my life, from the very beginning that leads to the house by the side of the road. I believe that when we are born God has a certain plan for our lives—a sort of blueprint. Sometimes the plan may not be seen in our lifetime. We may be the lifeline to a greater person, or a person that will provide a piece in the greater mosaic of God's intentions.

God gave each of us the gift of thought, and as individuals we are each free to alter the plan with the decisions we make as we travel life's path.

Let me stop here and share with you a poem that has been a tremendous influence in my life.

    There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
    In the place of their self content;
    There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
    In a fellowless firmament;
    There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths,
    Where highways never ran;
    But let me live by the side of the road
    And be a friend to man.

    Let me live in a house by the side of the road
    Where the race of men go by
    The men who are good and the men who are bad,
    As good and as bad as I.
    I should not sit in the scorner's seat,
    or hurl the cynic's ban;

    Let me live in a house by the side of the road
    And be a friend to man.
    I see from my house by the side of the road
    Where the race of men go by
    The men who press with ardor of hope,
    The men who are faint with the strife.
    But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears,
    Both parts of an infinite plan;
    Let me live in a house by the side of the road
    And be a friend of man.

    I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead
    And mountains of wearisome heights;
    That the road passes on through the long afternoon
    And stretches away into the night.
    But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
    And weep with the strangers that moan,
    Nor live in my house by the side of the road
    Like a man who dwells alone.

    Let me live in my house by the side of the road
    It's here the race of men go by,
    They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
    Wise, foolish—so am I;
    Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat
    Or hurl the cynic's ban?
    Let me live in my house by the side of the road
    And be a friend to man.
          —Sam Walter foss, 1899

Let me tell you about the house by the side of the road where I live. even better let me be the voice that tells the story that these walls would tell if they could speak.

I was born in Mobile, Alabama, on August 30, 1932, to Juanita Barnett Richardson and John William Sherrod. Both parents were natives of Sumter County in the west Alabama Black Belt. Both came from small but nurturing Alabama communities. My mother is from Hamner and my father from York, small towns where every one knows one another.

My father was a brakeman on the Alabama-Tennessee and Northern Railroad, a plum of a job for a black man in the 1930s. I can remember as a small child my mother taking me to the last stop before the train reached York so I could ride the train into the station with my daddy. What a wonderful life this was—pure and simple. I also wanted to look like my daddy, so the smallest pair of overalls was purchased although my mother still had to do a lot of alterations to make them fit. To complete the outfit, I had my very own brakeman's hat and lunch pail filled with a lunch my mother had prepared for the day! I was so excited before the planned trip. I was "off" to work with my daddy. I sat in the caboose with the other members of the crew, each of whom welcomed me with open arms. A father somehow has a special place for his little girl, and I was indeed special to mine.

My mother, who lived to be 102 years old, had seen it all. How many times over the years did I hear her say, "I never thought I would live to see this or that happen." Having to sit in the back on trains and buses and go to separate toilets, not being able to try on clothes because of your color, to have to drink out of a "colored" water fountain. All of this was part of her life. She often stated, "everyone just knew their place."

My parents, just as their parents had, tried to make life and its experiences better. They knew the bumps we would find along the road, the hatred and division that existed. They tried to protect me from that as much as they could. I was taught that I was no better than anyone else, and there was no one better than I was. They wanted the best for me, and for me to be my best—to be better than those who are filled with hate, to get an education, to be ready for opportunity. yes, I did run into people who called me "nigger," and I knew what it felt like to have to enter a theater after the whites were seated and then to sit separately upstairs. I knew something about this was wrong, but there was only one theater in town. Yes, I knew segregation well. In York the black schools had a split session so the children could help pick cotton in the fields; the white schools stayed open. My parents had to send me away to school to get a full year's education, first to Selma and then to Washington, D.C.

I also felt Jim Crow when he got personal: once traveling to Washington on the train, I sat near a couple who owned one of the best dress shops in Selma; when my mother or I went in their store, they were all smiles and full of "glad to see you" and "let me help you." On the train they looked right into my eyes and would not smile or speak.

Nevertheless my family did fare better than some. My father was able to buy my mother a full-length mink coat in the 1930s, and he sought to give my mother and me the best that life could offer at that time. After my mother was given the coat, she was advised that she could not wear that coat in York, Alabama! So she wore it when she and my father would go to Mobile, Selma, and other bigger towns. She seemed to be able to get away with wearing the coat in these places.

My mother's family in the late 1800s did have a very different experience than most blacks in the South at that time. Her father, my grandfather Tom Richardson, was the first Negro postmaster in the state of Alabama and was a registered voter in Sumter County even in the early 1900s. He was also the owner of several hundred acres of land so they were considered "good livers" and were afforded a few extra privileges. He believed that education was the route to better opportunities, that we should become professionals as educators and doctors, even if we were still just "niggers" to some, including some that were related to us.

After I was born, I spent the first four years of my life in Mobile. My father's base was then changed to York. Because my father was originally from York and as his parents were getting up in age, my parents decided to move to York. We lived with them in a house high on a hill. That hill was in many ways the hub of the community. Much of the land on that hill was owned by my paternal grandfather, Jim Sherrod. He and his parents had lived there for more years than I know.

Jim Sherrod's father, my great-grandfather, had given the land that would house the First Baptist Church in York. I remember that church so well, a block- style building built high, with twelve to fifteen steps leading to the sanctuary, with the Sunday school rooms on the ground level. The sound of rain hitting the long gable roof of bright tin, and the preacher and good sisters and brothers singing, shouting, and saying amen, are sounds etched into my memory. Services were not held every Sunday; as with a lot of rural churches, our preacher had two other churches to serve, but he would come to our church twice a month. But whenever services were held at First Baptist all the houses on the hill were represented at least with mother and children plus families from all around the area. Some fathers did not quite make it to every service. We also had Sunday school and Baptist Training Union (BTU) every Sunday. Little did I know that these early memories of my faith began to plant the seeds in my soul of justice and freedom for all humankind.

My father's mother, Lula Sherrod, was the superintendent of the Sunday school, head of the deaconesses board, and church secretary. in other words, Lula Sherrod ran the church and kept track of the money! My grandmother was a wonderful lady. I guess she also is the one from whom I inherited my interest in and love of cooking. She had a large iron wood- burning stove with a large side container that held water. When the stove was in use for cooking, it also heated the water for daily use so we had hot water throughout the day.

I can remember my grandmother would like to take a "dip" of snuff after dinner in the afternoon. I watched her afternoon after afternoon, seemingly enjoying her dip so much. One day, I decided to have a dip. Knowing where she kept her dip box, I carefully extracted some snuff from the box and tucked it in my lower lip, just as my grandmother did. I went to sit on the front porch with her and Miss Alice Walker, her good friend, who lived across the street. The longer I sat the sicker I got. You talk about being sick; I thought I was going to throw up my toenails! My grandmother took me in the house and cleaned my mouth out and we then had a good talk about what adults can do but children cannot. The sickness helped me to know that there are some things little girls should not do. I really paid for that talk. To make me feel better she mixed some sugar and cocoa together and put it in my lip. I found that I did not much like this mixture either, so that experience broke up my going into her snuff box ever again.

Chapter Two

Up on the Hill

Out of those nine homes on the hill there were ten children. To this day I can name them all. I can account for and know where eight of them are. The church steps were our gathering place, the grounds were our playground, and a spot under the streetlights at one corner of the church was our dreaming and planning place. We played in full view of all the adult eyes sitting on the porches of the homes up on the hill. Everybody on the hill knew everyone, all children answered to any adult, no one locked a door. Oh, how I remember those hot summer nights under the streetlight, sitting on the porch steps until our parents called us in for the night.

Two of the households I distinctly remember—the Creston Portis family and Alice Walker, who lived alone across the street from my house and who came and sat with my grandmother every afternoon, discussing the latest gossip and the problems of the day. She will never die as long as we are alive, because she would invariably say to my grandmother, "Miss Lula, I'm so full!" My grandmother would reply, "Why, what did you have for dinner, Alice?" Miss Walker would reply, listing her menu with pleasure: "Some black-eyed peas, some okra, some cornbread and some milk." To this day, after a good meal my daughter and I will quote Miss Alice: "Miss Lula, I'm so full!"

There was an ice house just down the hill that made ice for the people in the town of York. All of the people living on the hill went down daily to get ice for their ice boxes. My parents had the only refrigerator in the community. We had an ice box also, because the ice trays in the refrigerator at that time were not very large. At this time none of the hill households had indoor plumbing and people got their water from one of two wells. My grandparents had one, and the second belonged to a house that my grandparents had built and given to my father. We never stayed in that house, though, because my parents felt the "big house" needed us and it was large enough to accommodate two families. My grandparents and the three of us lived there happily for many years and water from the well was freely available to all.

My paternal grandmother, a Spelman College graduate, was the reader and writer on the hill. When the neighbors received a letter, she usually read it to them. When they needed to write a letter, she usually wrote it. She read and wrote most of the communications for all of the people on the hill.

Other memories from those days include the faces of close friends today. One of the persons has until this day remained not only a friend but, because of our closeness in York, the sister I never had. She is Margaurite Portis, whose family would live in the house with the second well, the one that had been built for my father.

The Portis family consisted of the father, Creston, his wife Miss Christine, who was one good soul God created, and their six children. Margaurite, the oldest daughter, and I would spend our days playing together at her house or mine but always within view of our parents. And play we did, making up all kinds of games to fill our days. We would tie several tin cans one after another on a long string taken from the blocks of ice that people in the community would buy each day, and then race from one line drawn in the dirt to another, and we played hop- scotch on blocks also drawn on the ground. We would also go behind the church where there was a patch of ragweed, take the weed, chop it up with a brick, roll it in some paper, and smoke it. We got caught with this one. Ball games behind the church were also a favorite pastime that could last all day. We were always together until we were called in for meals and evening baths and sometimes we even took those together! After bath time, we would gather again under the streetlight and discuss the day's events until bedtime. because I was an only child and Margaurite was from a big family, she would often come to my house to spend the night so we could continue planning our dreams and fantasies. I can remember we would take soft drink bottles and stuff them with ice block twine. After stuffing the bottles we would wet the twine, unravel it to make it look like hair, and comb and set many different hairstyles.

Each year as the lazy summers came to an end, education became more important than play and as we began to grow, my family was faced with the dilemma of the split school session each year that Sumter County provided. When I reached school age, I was sent to live with my mother's relatives in Selma. I would always return to York for Christmas and summer to the house on the hill where my grandmother still read the community letters and the Portis family still lived. Each summer I would return home to play and share my experiences of going to school in the "big city" of Selma. While I was away how I missed Margaurite!

Later the Portis family moved from York to Mobile as their mother sought a better life for her flock as all parents did of that day. They grew up, found jobs, and began to live their lives. Time and distance kept Margaurite and me apart for some years, but the love and memories we shared would bind us together for a lifetime and the day would come when we would find each other again.

My mother, Juanita Barnett Richardson, a Tuskegee institute and Alabama State University trained teacher, was teaching school before she and my father met and married. When we moved from Mo bile to York in 1936, my mother was closer to her birthplace of Hamner, Alabama, which was only twelve miles from York. Still, I thought my mother was never really happy in York. In Mobile, she was out of the countryside and able to live in a large metropolitan city that could give her and her family more opportunities to broaden their dreams and horizons than a small town could. Yet fate declared otherwise.

Excerpted from The House by the Side of the Road by Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson Copyright © 2011 by The University Of Alabama Press . Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Preface   000

Acknowledgments    000


1. The Blueprint of My Life and the House  000

2. Up on the Hill  000

3. Preparation for a Life's Journey   000

4. Choosing a Mate 000

5. The Foundation Is Laid    000

6. The Port in the Storm     000

7. Martin Luther King Jr. the Man 000

8. Storm Clouds Roll over Selma   000

9. Hosting a Movement   000

10. Dangerous Days 000

11. Uncle Martin   000

12. Shelter for the Spirit   000

13. Our Neighborhood    000

14. Guests in the House 000

15. Other Voices in the House     000

16. The Sanctuary  000

17. Vital Staff    000

18. Perilous Times 000

19. Women in the Movement    000

20. Other Support Systems    000

21. Nobel Prize Winners in the House  000

22. Soldiers in the Storm    000

23. Preparing for the March  000

24. Strategy  000

25. The Fires Burn 000

26. On Our Way 000

27. No Room in the Inn  000

28. Marching Orders 000

29. A Concert for the Masses 000

30. The Final Journey   000

31. Memories and Echoes of Martin 000

Appendix 1: Timeline for the Selma Voting Rights Campaign of 1965  000

Appendix 2: Cabbage Recipe

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 11, 2012

    Superb!!! very well written so proud that Selma has some positiv

    Superb!!! very well written so proud that Selma has some positive

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    Posted December 16, 2013

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