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.