(PHOTO: Associated Press)
Calumet College of St. Joseph has a special connection to the historic march depicted in the 2014 movie Selma, which will be screened at 3:30 PM, Monday, Apr. 2, Room 315 as part of CCSJ’s annual Humanities Festival. The running time of the film is 2 hours.
Trip to Montgomery, Alabama (March 1965)
A major highlight of the College’s East Chicago period (1960-75), student and faculty participation in the third and final phase of the march from Selma to Montgomery, a pivotal event in the voting rights movement, demonstrated active commitment to social justice and civil rights principles embodied in the school’s mission. Nationwide TV news coverage of Selma’s “Bloody Sunday” (March 7, 1965), showing nonviolent marchers attacked by state and local police with Billy clubs and tear gas, had shifted public opinion in favor of the Civil Rights Movement.
Bus trips were organized across the country for supporters to travel to Montgomery and join in the final segment of the successful March on Thursday, March 25. One fully loaded bus that left East Chicago the day before held many SJCC students including Toni DiCastro (Chandler), and long-time Gary Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities, Msgr. Joseph Semancik.
Mike Richardson, 5 students and English professor Dr. Robert Banet decided to go on their own, taking turns driving Mike’s 1956 Mercury along the 10-hour ride. They left after watching Batman Wednesday evening in Student Center. Mike’s dad, a Gary postman, had advised him not to go because of potentially serious dangers they would face.
Following a bus and closing in on their destination, the car skidded off the highway into a ditch, where the riders discovered it had four bald tires and no spare. The front fender was damaged and the transmission would need repair before the return trip, but the car was drivable the distance it had to go.
Their destination was the campus of the City of St. Jude Catholic high school on the outskirts of Montgomery. The 2 groups joined some 25,000 marchers to the steps of the State Capitol Building. They left St. Jude about 2:00 that afternoon and walked 8 abreast, with Alabama state troopers making sure they behaved themselves. The first part through the black section of town was encouraging and comforting. “It was the first time I saw houses on stilts,” Mike recalled. Seniors sat on their porches calling out “Thank you, Jesus!” and “We love you.”
The atmosphere changed, however, in the white section. People threw cigarette butts, bags of urine, spat on and yelled curses and obscenities at the marchers. Someone spat on Mike from the top of a movie theater marquee. Another threw urine that splashed on one of the female SJCC students. Mike wanted to go and confront the individual but, fortunately, his companions held him back.
Eventually they reached the capitol steps atop which a wooden platform had been laid for the protesters to stand on to avoid contaminating the hallowed ground below. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the speech, How Long, Not Long.
He said, “Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience… How long will it take?”
The ceremonies ended by 5:30, Mike said, and Dr. King had cautioned the marchers to leave the area by 6:00 because their safety could not be assured after dark. Mike, however, needing to have his tires changed and transmission repaired, stopped at a nearby shop. Appreciating the dedication of the group, the black mechanic completed the work at no charge.
The group left at 9 or 10 p.m. Before they got free of the city, English professor Dr. Banet, who was driving at the time, apparently hit someone (who may have approached the car), Mike said, but they did not stop to jeopardize their safety.
They felt it was safe to stop at the airport, where the facilities had been integrated through the efforts of the Freedom Riders. Taking turns driving, they reached the College Friday afternoon and walked into Student Center, where they received a warm welcome from students relieved to see their safe return.
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