Reflections on Evelyn G Lowery’s Civil Rights Heritage Tour
By Courtney Hanson
I had the opportunity last weekend to attend Mrs. Evelyn G Lowery’s Civil Rights Heritage Tour. It was a life-changing two days visiting monuments of ‘martyrs of the movement’ and marching across the Edmond Pettus bridge, hearing the untold stories of the women so dedicated to Civil Rights work, and putting the current struggle for justice in context.
Each stop served as a reminder not just of the brutality black people faced, but of the courage and sacrifice they endured for basic Civil Rights, especially the right to vote -- the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham where three girls died as a result of a bomb, Zion United Methodist Church in Marion, where Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot for defending his mother against the brutal hands of white police, the site of a tent city where poor blacks kicked off their land after registering to vote resettled.
And with each stop, usually came the story of how women played a role in the movement with each particular march, meeting, or effort to pick up the pieces after an atrocity. Mrs. Lowery really lifted up women so often put as an afterthought or left out completely of history books and our collective consciousness.
Rosa Parks, contrary to popular myth, wasn’t just a weary woman with tired feet. She was an organizer dedicated to fighting for equal rights. It was thanks to the work of Rosa Parks and JoAnn Gibson Robinson that the Montgomery bus boycott was launched. After Parks was arrested, Robinson stayed up all night making 50,000 handbills advertising the bus boycott.
Viola Luizzo is a name you hear far less often than other Civil Rights icons, but it was her death that is widely attributed as the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Just days after this white housewife from Detroit,who drove to the South to lend her hand in the fight for Civil Rights, was murdered in her car while transporting marchers from Montgomery to Selma, President Lyndon B Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The trip was also a reminder of why our movement looks different today. Gone are the firehouses and dogs unleashed on minorities. Gone are segregated schools and lunch counters. Gone are the days when a black vote counted for just 3/5 of a white vote.
But today, many argue slavery is still alive and well in the form of our criminal justice system an that lynching has taken new life in teh form of the death penalty. Minorities and poor people still struggle greatly for equal access to the voting booth.
So, standing on the shoulders of Rosa Parks and Viola Luizzo, Corretta Scott King and JoAnn Gibson Robinson, we continue the fight.
“What did they say by the Rosa Parks statue,” one tour participant who stayed on the bus to avoid the cold asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” her seatmate said. “What matters is there was a row of little Rosa Parks standing there and learning.”