My dear AFRO readers, this story is dedicated to those of you who take trips with me to the backroads of my memory. For some of you this may be your first time with me.  October 24 is a special day. It was a moment in time, not just a fanciful dream. So come with me cross the sea. Come with me across the horizon and turn back the hands of time to October 2005.

Tuesday Oct. 25, 2005, somewhere out over the Pacific Ocean on the big 747 jet airliner headed into the autumn sunset: “Memories must be written before we begin to edit them,” I reasoned. Therefore writing as fast as I can before one minute of this experience is regulated to the past.

We came in road-weary VW Buses, with backpacks and sleeping bags, willing to sleep on any floor, withstand certain adversity, every abuse and encounter death, to add another face to the struggle for equality and dignity in America during the 1950’s and 60’s.

Now, October 2005, we arrived in Montgomery, Ala., “The Cradle of the Confederacy,” on jets planes, sports sedans and air conditioned SUV’s with matching luggage and stayed at the Embassy Suites, each one of us showing the evidence of years of wear and tear.

In 1955, when the mournful list of martyrs begins, the American South was an apartheid society, a world where racial differences were legitimized by law. This movement had its beginnings in Montgomery when a people chose to walk in dignity rather than sit in segregated despair.

There had been protests against the American evil system of Jim Crow, in the courts and in the streets for years, but after Montgomery the protests swelled to a collective force. From this city, the movement and its method spread throughout the land.

Early on that sunny Sunday morning, our host, ScottB and Linda Smith, my Son Christopher German and I had a typical southern breakfast at a diner. The aroma of fresh-baked biscuits and cheese grits with brown gravy greeted us. “May I help you” the lovely young White server asked as she handed us the menu.  The three page menu showed the South’s propensity for a full breakfast.  I looked her in the eye and she smiled broadly asking if we were visitors from out of town. Yes and no, ScottB replied. We live here and they are from Hawaii, nodding toward me.

“Well, the young lady said, while you are in Montgomery you really must visit the Civil Rights Memorial and the Rosa Parks museum.” That is exactly where we are going, Linda assured her.

Wow! So this is the new Montgomery, an interracial couple hosting us for breakfast at a diner in downtown Montgomery. And to think how long and hard the KKK and the White Citizens Council had fought to keep this city white.  The ghost of the martyrs who died for this day must be singing the “Hallelujah” chorus. I’ve heard there was a secret chord, that David played, and it pleased the Lord, “Hallelujah.”

This magnificent day was the dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, which included the Wall of Tolerance. The Wall of Tolerance digitally displays the names of more than half a million people who have pledged to take a stand against hate and work for justice and tolerance in their daily lives.  Using digital technology to create spectacular effect, the names flow down a curved 20 by 40 foot wall. The names on the wall include civil rights workers from all fifty states and Japan.

The Civil Rights Memorial, created by Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin, honors the achievements and memory of those who died during the Civil Rights Movement, a period framed by the momentous Brown v. Board decision in 1954 and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968.

A circular black granite table records the names of the martyrs and chronicles the history of the movement in lines that radiate like the hands of a clock. Water emerges from the table’s center and flows evenly across the top. On the curved black granite wall behind the table is engraved Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s well-known paraphrase of Amos 5:24 – We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Patiently, we stood in line to touch, to feel, to smell and take pictures of the bus in which Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat to a white man, as if it were the Holy Grail and to gently touch the waters of the black granite memorial that flow over the names of the 40 martyrs.

It was here in Montgomery that a young Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was selected to lead a congregation and began his march toward fame. Here, he preached nonviolence in the face of Jim Crow. Rosa Parks sat down and refused to get up here, and thousands of unnamed “workers in the vineyard” walked to work for more than a year because of her. The bus boycott started here. Heroes whose names are lost to history took a stand for freedom here. People from Hawaii joined the thousands more who walked in the rain and mud for five days from Selma to Montgomery, seeking the right to vote.

I was moved beyond words to see my name (Marsha Joyner) and that of my mother (Elizabeth Murphy Oliver) among the names on the Wall of Tolerance. However, I was more impressed and honored to be with the thousands of allies, veterans of the movement, who were in the crowd and whose names did not appear. Black, white, red, yellow & brown, Uncles & Cousins, Mothers & Sisters, Christian & Jews, Gay & straight; some with walkers and in wheel chairs accompanied by children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, proud to share a moment, that for most, if not all of us, never dreamed would come.

Yes, I had a pittance in the Civil Rights Movement, I was the first “colored girl” to graduate (1956) from an integrated school in Baltimore after the Brown vs. BOE (1954), walked many picket lines, participated in sit-in demonstrations, went to jail for having the audacity to ask to be served a 10 cent hamburger at the White Castle, faced death at the hands of an angry white mob when I had the impudence to attempt to register people to vote and walked the ever moving line of Jim Crow. But today I was in the company of real heroes, people who had practiced non-violence here in the overtly violent south. The workers in the vineyard, those who give so much and get so little

Most of those who made the movement weren’t the famous; they were the faceless. They weren’t the noted; they were the nameless — the marchers with tired feet, the protestors beaten back by billy clubs and fire hoses, the unknown women and men who risked job and home and life.

Morris Dees

“The memorial sits only a few blocks west of the first capitol of the Confederacy, the spot where Jefferson Davis took the oath of office to become President of the Confederate States. From Court Square, the order was sent in 1861 to “reduce” Fort Sumter, beginning the Civil War. Ninety-four years later, on a December evening, Mrs. Rosa Parks began a historic bus ride from Court Square. East is the Dexter Avenue (King Memorial) Baptist Church, where a young pastor named Martin Luther King, Jr., led the movement Mrs. Parks began. “Fifty years ago, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat just a few blocks away from where we are today,” said Center co-founder Morris Dees in his welcoming remarks. “You’ve come from throughout the United States to be a part of the march that Rosa Parks started. “The placement of your name on the Wall of Tolerance shows the march for justice continues,” Morris Deeds concluded.

Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala,),

“This event is about honoring heroes,” said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala,), who was the dedication’s keynote speaker. “It has been the lot of our country that the bravest of us have laid down their lives, some anonymously, some in full view of the world,” Davis said. “All share courage and are heroes. That’s what we honor today.”

He urged everyone to consider “the enduring power of people who are willing to take a stand.” Davis continued, “Standing here, five minutes away from where George Wallace declared that men and women could not be equal, there is a new ground rising. There is a new Alabama in sight. There is a new country in sight. But only if we keep believing in each other, in the power of right.”

Julian Bond and Marsha Joyner

NAACP chairman and Civil Rights Movement veteran, Julian Bond, was greeted with a standing ovation when he was introduced. He said of the people gathered at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of these acts will be written the history of this generation.

It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.

And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Rosa Parks

Monday, Oct. 24, 2005 sitting in the airport as we said our goodbyes to our new and old best friends, the overhead television monitors flashed an alert, “Civil Rights Giant Rosa Parks dies”.

A hush fell over the entire airport. People from everywhere, every size, shape and color stood in front ofthe monitors without uttering a word. We, strangers and friends hugged each other, as it seemed, SHE, the woman whose name was on the invitation to the movement, had waited until the conclusion of the tribute to the other unsung heroes, the workers in the vineyard, to take her final bow.

She left us physically but her legacy will never fade away. She is at peace!

MarshaRose Joyner is a resident of, and an activist in many civil rights causes in, the Hawaiian Islands. She is a native Baltimorean, one of the first Black graduates of Baltimore’s Western High School, and the daughter of the late Elizabeth M. Oliver, a nationally recognized AFRO journalist. Joyner is also the great-granddaughter
of AFRO founder, John H. Murphy Sr.