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The House by the Side of the Road

The Selma Civil Rights Movement

Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

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pp. ix-x

I would like to thank God for my memory and for as many friends and companions as I can reach through this book, for what they did to make the Selma civil rights movement a success—those who came from all over the country, those who walked to Selma, those who drove, those who flew or came by bus, and those who sent money ...

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pp. xi-xii

In the South the month of March is a beautiful time of year, as winter lets go its grip and Spring is slowly pushing her way in. it’s March now as I write this, back in my home in Selma after recovering from illness in the good care of my daughter Jawana at her home in Atlanta. Looking out into my backyard from where I like to sit when ...

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1. The Blueprint of My Life and the House

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pp. 1-7

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 ...

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2. Up on the Hill

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pp. 8-11

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 ...

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3. Preparation for Life’s Journey

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pp. 12-16

My mother sought the best educational advantages for me and sent me away yet again, this time to live with her younger brother Harold Richardson, who lived in Washington, D.C. His wife, Norma Richardson, who was then teaching in the D.C. school system and at Howard University, was a tremendous influence in my young life. ...

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4. Choosing a Mate

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pp. 17-19

Each summer during my student days at Alabama State, I worked in the president’s office to help pay my expenses for the coming year. The summer of my junior year, 1953, I went home to Selma for the fourth of July holiday, which was on a Saturday. on this sojourn home, as always, my family would have a picnic. On this particular outing ...

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5. The Foundation is Laid

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pp. 20-23

This house by the side of the road that has been my home for more than half a century was built in 1906 as a wedding present for my Cousin Leola and her husband, Dr. William Whitted, a dentist in Selma, by her father, Dr. Richard B. Hudson. Dr. Hudson was a well known educator in Selma who had married my grandfather Richardson’s ...

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6. The Port in the Storm

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pp. 24-26

Several times a year all ministers from the Alabama Missionary Baptist State Convention would have meetings at Selma University, a Baptist-supported school located almost right across the street from our house. Since the school is located in central Alabama, this made it convenient for black Baptist ministers to attend meetings with out ...

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7. Martin Luther King Jr. the Man

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pp. 27-32

How do you describe a man who was a son, brother, husband, student, scholar, theologian, orator, and author? I may have missed an adjective or two in describing Martin Luther King Jr. To this day, the question I am most often asked is, “Just what was Martin Luther King Jr. like?” Well how does a dictionary define the word “friend”? ...

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8. Storm Clouds Roll over Selma

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pp. 33-34

The Dallas County Voters League invited Dr. King to speak at the annual Emancipation Service in Selma on January 2, 1965. only a handful of blacks in Selma and Dallas County were registered voters and the Dallas County Voters League wanted to change that. They set up classes to teach blacks how to fill out application forms and how ...

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9. Hosting a Movement

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pp. 35-38

Dr. King accepted the invitation by the Dallas County Voters League and with the speech he gave, the Selma Movement was officially born. We had a leader. From then on Martin stayed in our home regularly when he was in town. I know of only two instances when he did not stay at the house by the side of the road. The first was when we were ...

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10. Dangerous Days

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pp. 39-42

We did not tell our family and friends about the threats we received, some claiming bombs or other mayhem would be directed at the house, and others threatening my husband’s life. Had all these possible dangers been known by our family, Sully’s mother in Indiana would have been down here in no time and the Klan would have been ...

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11. Uncle Martin

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pp. 43-47

Dr. King always called my mother his “Selma mother,” which she enjoyed being when he was in Selma. One day he arrived in Selma with a cold and my mother made him a potion that only mothers of those days could make: red onions, honey, lemon, and several teaspoons of whiskey. She would cook this until all was blended well ...

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12. Shelter for the Spirit

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pp. 48-53

As the Selma movement gained momentum and the dangers to Martin became more intense, Bernard Lee started traveling with him, which meant he came to the house more often. There was a great need to monitor calls, visitors, and reporters trying to see or talk to Martin Luther King Jr. Bernard handled much of this because some of the ...

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13. Our Neighborhood

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pp. 54-56

Our neighborhood is made up of older, educated, settled persons. Selma University is close by, and a number of our neighbors were senior faculty and staff there. My husband and I were the youngest couple on the street for several blocks. The neighbors saw all of the reporters setting up shop on our porch and in the yard. I knew our ...

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14. Guests in the House

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pp. 57-61

On February 1, 1965, Martin led a group of over 250 demonstrators to the Dallas County Courthouse in an attempt to register to vote, only to be all arrested, including Martin, by Sheriff Clark for “parading without a permit.” The sheriff was beginning to get excited and nervous; perhaps those he answered to were beginning to feel un- ...

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15. Other Voices in the House

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pp. 62-66

When Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, the longtime distinguished president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, walked into the house I almost felt like standing and placing my hand over my heart just out of great respect for this dynamic man. Dr. Mays came to the house by the side of the road mainly, I felt, to give his moral support to one of his most ...

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16. The Sanctuary

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pp. 67-78

My church, brown Chapel of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, had a close connection to the house by the side of the road, much like the relationship of our family house in york and the First Baptist Church many years before. Brown Chapel had its beginning shortly after the Civil War when Methodist missionaries from Georgia...

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17. Vital Staff

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pp. 79-85

Whenever both Dr. King and Reverend Abernathy were out of town and even sometimes when they weren’t, the speaker for the mass meetings at the church would be Andrew J. Young. Either way Andy was always at the house. In the beginning we didn’t know Andy as well as we knew Ralph or Martin. Here again irony comes into play. ...

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18. Perilous Times

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pp. 86-90

Sully was taking Martin to Montgomery to catch a flight during a tense period for the movement, and Sully told Martin, “now, my gun is on the seat between us, so if a car comes up alongside that looks suspicious, you shoot while I put the pedal to the metal.” Martin turned to Sully with a little laugh and said, “Sully, I thought I had taught you ...

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19. Women in the Movement

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pp. 91-94

Coretta Scott King did not come to the house during this period as much as I think she may have wanted to. Maybe Martin felt one parent on the firing line was enough. The possibility of his children being without both parents may have been uppermost in his thoughts. You must remember the civil rights movement was basically run by ...

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20. Other Support Systems

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pp. 95-100

How did we ever do without the telephone? When God gave Alexander Graham bell the inspiration and knowledge to invent the telephone, he surely knew what people needed, although with one advancement we lost the benefits of another. before the telephone, we wrote more, all the beautifully written letters and documents that history has pre-...

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21. Nobel Prize Winners in the House

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pp. 101-104

During the preparations for the march to Montgomery, among the demonstrations and all the activity, we did experience a quiet moment in the house by the side of the road. Martin asked Dr. Ralph Bunche, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, to come to Selma. if I did not know the history and had not the benefit of my own experiences, ...

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22. Soldiers in the Storm

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pp. 105-108

Another soldier in the movement was a young minister named nelson Smith. I say soldier because his first major battles were fought in the streets of Birmingham, Alabama. ...

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23. Preparing for the March

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pp. 109-111

There were marches and there were marches, but I do not know if anyone can give an exact number of people who participated, not only in Selma but in many of the small rural towns throughout the black belt. Dr. King did not lead all of the marches, and was in Atlanta during the famed bloody Sunday march. ...

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24. Strategy

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pp. 112-114

What the law enforcement officers and state troopers did not know was that the staff had not planned to go all the way to Montgomery that day, only over the bridge, then stop to kneel and pray, and then return to Brown Chapel. but once upon the bridge, they saw the confrontation that would happen. There were state troopers under ...

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25. The Fires Burn

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pp. 115-121

Martin and Ralph arrived in Selma early the next morning on Monday, March 8, 1965. Staff was in and out all that day, meeting, making phone calls, and seeking a court injunction in Montgomery to permit another march, and evaluating the information that came in from national news and from overseas as to what the rest of the ...

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26. On Our Way

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pp. 122-124

Now the flurry of action begins. Locate campsites, because the trip cannot be made in one day. find the black-owned land along the road between Selma and Montgomery, where marchers can rest and eat along the way. Secure portable toilets; set up transportation for the supplies the marchers would need: water, food. ...

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27. No Room in the Inn

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pp. 125-127

Everything was moving into place. People were traveling to Selma in faith that all would be well, as days and nights passed until we realized it was the night before the day of the big march. ...

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28. Marching Orders

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pp. 128-132

Another hectic morning—what do I cook? How many servings of grits do I make? Who eats eggs and cooked which way? Then the answer to these questions suddenly came. Cook what you have and hope it works for everyone. So I cooked a big pot of grits, fried several two pound packages of bacon and several other pounds of sausage, boiled ...

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29. A Concert for the Masses

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pp. 133-137

During this last meeting the day of the march, Martin asked me to go to Montgomery to help Dora McDonald pull together a gala celebration that would be held for the arriving marchers at St. Jude Catholic School in Montgomery. St. Jude is a large complex on Highway 80 contains a hospital, church, school, doctors’ offices, and...

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30. The Final Journey

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pp. 138-147

After the national attention on the Selma movement moved on to other struggles and other places, our life changed completely. We knew something very important had happened, and we would somehow never be the same, but it would take years for us to begin to realize what had happened that spring. At first we were just relieved ...

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31. Memories and Echoes of Martin

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pp. 148-152

After the funeral procession, we spent the night at the Creecy’s home and the next day returned to Selma and the house filled with so many memories of our dear friend. We have consciously or unconsciously saved items, chosen not to have furniture recovered, all in an unspoken attempt to retain the presence of our friend Martin. Finally, ...

Appendix One - Selma and Area Counties

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pp. 153-154

Appendix Two

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pp. 155-161

Appendix Three

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p. 162-162

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383268
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817316945

Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Selma (Ala.) -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Selma (Ala.) -- Biography.
  • Jackson, Richie Jean Sherrod, 1932- -- Homes and haunts -- Alabama -- Selma.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- Alabama -- Selma -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Alabama -- Selma -- Biography.
  • African American women civil rights workers -- Alabama -- Selma -- Biography.
  • Civil rights movements -- Alabama -- Selma -- History -- 20th century.
  • Jackson, Richie Jean Sherrod, 1932-.
  • Civil rights workers -- Alabama -- Selma -- Biography.
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