TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Emma Baxter believes that the younger generation has it too good.
Baxter, a longtime Tuscaloosa resident, was part of the civil rights movement in Tuscaloosa in the 1960s at a time when most of the focus was on what was happening in Montgomery, Selma and other places across the country.
“You have to work for what you get. If you want something, you have to go get it,” said Baxter, who was a student at Stillman College when students decided to protest discriminatory practices against blacks on the city bus.
Because of what she values, Baxter decided to participate in a project conducted by the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Task Force to document the civil rights movement in Tuscaloosa. On March 25, the group held two different collection sessions where they filmed the oral histories of people who lived in Tuscaloosa in the 1950s and 1960s.
Tina Jones, president of the task force, said it is important to document that point in U.S. history.
“For some time, the importance of the movement has been somewhat overlooked,” Jones said.
The nonprofit task force was formed in 2016 with a mission to establish Tuscaloosa as an important tourist destination for civil rights history. In addition to collecting the stories of Tuscaloosa’s civil rights movement, the task force aims to establish a civil rights trail of notable historical sites in the area. The task force seeks to include Tuscaloosa in state- and area-wide tours of civil rights events. Another of the task force’s objectives is to create a Tuscaloosa civil rights museum.
A draft of Tuscaloosa’s civil rights trail on the task force’s website currently includes 14 sites, including two of the city’s best-known civil rights moments:
The “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” took place on June 11, 1963. Then-Gov. George Wallace stood at the entrance of Foster Auditorium in an attempt to block black students Vivian Malone and James Hood from registering for classes at the University of Alabama. Federal officials threatened to remove Wallace, but the governor stepped aside peacefully, clearing the way for desegregation in Alabama.
“Bloody Tuesday” took place on June 9, 1964. A peaceful march from the First African Baptist Church to the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse turned violent after law enforcement beat dozens of men, women and children, sending 33 to the hospital and arresting another 94. Marchers were seeking to abolish the whites-only drinking fountains at the county courthouse.
Jones said it is important to catalog the memories of people who lived through those events as well as the lesser-known events in Tuscaloosa’s civil right movement. The group is working to conduct more interview sessions with people who lived through the civil rights movement. The task force is also seeking to collect artifacts from the time period.
“The Alabama civil rights story is an amazing story and it brings people from all over the world,” she said. “We need to have as much as possible to tell the story.”
Betty Duncan Wells was another woman interviewed for the project March 25 at the Tuscaloosa Career and Technology Academy, where she discussed her time taking part in marches and attending weekly meetings.
“We were always at the high school every Monday night,” Wells said. “We would just look at what the needs of the community were at the time.”
Wells, who grew up on Herman Avenue, said Tuscaloosa in the 1960s was very different than it is now.
“There were many places where we weren’t allowed to eat or work,” she said. “All we wanted was jobs and equality.”
Jones said the project will be ongoing and that the ultimate goal is to unveil a civil rights trail in Tuscaloosa.
“I think we’re going to uncover some amazing things that people don’t know about, so it’s going to be a lot of fun,” she said.
Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, https://www.tuscaloosanews.com
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