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.
Being in Alabama’s Black Belt gave me a completely different feeling than when I’m in LA. As we drove Route 80 from Montgomery to Selma, the landscape summoned strange emotions and I found myself wondering about the vast expanses of land along the road. Were these fields tilled by slaves just 150 years ago? Were some of them able to escape through the woods and swamps? How they must have suffered.
This 54-mile rolling road is now called the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail. About midway, we visited the Lowndes Interpretive Center at the former site of the old Tent City, which was set up by SNCC in 1965 to house sharecropper families who were kicked off the land by white landowners simply because they had registered to vote. For over two years, the black families there lived without running water or bathrooms.
Along the trail, there are also markers for the Campsites 1-4, where the marchers spent their nights. Campsites 1-3 were on land owned by black farmers who bravely let the marchers camp on their land, knowing they faced retaliation (killing livestock, denying bank loans, etc.) by the KKK and other racist whites.
A few miles down the road, we stopped at a knoll where Viola Liuzzo’s memorial marker stood. It was erected in 1991 by the SCLC women’s conference to honor Liuzzo — a white mother of five from Detroit who answered Martin Luther King’s call to join the movement in Selma.
She was shot and killed on that lonely highway in the pitch of night by the KKK while trying to return to Montgomery after driving some marchers back to Selma.
On the day we visited, we saw fresh floral wreaths in her honor; we were happy to see that she had not been forgotten. Later, we heard that several of her adult children had taken part in the 50th commemoration.
Before I went to Selma, I thought I knew quite a bit about the Civil Rights Movement, but I learned so much during this trip. The trail is just one part of an amazing story of a people’s decades-long struggle for freedom.
I encourage everyone to visit this area — you will learn and be inspired by the stories of heroic men and women who risked reprisals and death every day for the right to vote and to be treated as full citizens of this country.