This story is part of a series about the Asian Americans who traveled to Selma, Alabama for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” the Selma-to-Montgomery march and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Click here to view the rest of the series.
By Shirley Hibino
Retired, Highland Park
After leaving LAX at 6:30 a.m., on the connecting flight from Atlanta to Montgomery, I sat next to a well-dressed black woman and greeted her, “Hello, how are you?” and she replied, “Tired!”
I mentioned that I was going to Selma for the 50th Anniversary Jubilee. The woman said she now lives in L.A. but she is from Selma. She introduced herself as Bettie Fikes and said she goes back to Selma every year for Jubilee weekend. Bettie mentioned she was an SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, pronounced “snick”) member along with good friend Congressman John Lewis. Of course my ears perked up.
She said she sings with the SNCC Freedom Singers and was scheduled to perform that night at the historic Tabernacle Baptist Church in Selma. I was excited to hear that because we had planned to go to this mass meeting.
Bettie told me more. “I was about 15 years old when I joined SNCC and started talking to black people about registering to vote.” She was an only child and her parents are gone now, so “The Movement” is her family, she said.
I was engrossed in the conversation but the plane landed too soon. We parted ways but bumped into each other again at baggage claim.
I introduced her to Mike and June, who continued the conversation with Bettie while we waited for our bags. Someone from the Jubilee Committee was supposed to pick her up but “You know, they’re so disorganized.” June gave Bettie her cell number and told her to call us if no one came for her; we had room in our rented car. As we were ready to leave the airport, Bettie’s arranged ride came for her.
That night at the Tabernacle Baptist Church, we got to hear Bettie sing with the Freedom Singers. It was incredible. The next day we looked at Bettie’s website (www.bettiefikes.com) and learned that she is known as “the Voice of Selma” and “Queen of the Blues.”
Because she was so modest and unassuming, we had no idea that Bettie Mae Fikes is a world-renowned songstress and an icon in the Civil Rights Movement. I wondered if she had ridden with us to Selma, how many fascinating stories we would have heard.