LOWNDES CO., AL (WSFA) - Preparations for the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights March are in full swing across the area.
The events that led to equal voting rights weren't limited to Selma and Montgomery.
The people of Lowndes County are also getting ready to celebrate their role in the movement.
Twenty of the 50 miles in the historic march took place in Lowndes County and as residents look back on 50 years, they're honoring the history that was made, the mark Lowndes County had, and the legacy they continue to uphold.
Lowndes County is known for the campsites that gave rest to the weary marchers from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, and tent city where black tenant farmers were forced to live after trying to register to vote. Some lost their lives in the struggle.
The county will commemorate that chapter over the next few days in a number of ways, from a race relations panel to a tent city re-enactment and tours of their 18 historic sites.
Community leaders like Pastor Courtney Meadows of First Missionary Baptist Church in Whitehall hope it will tell the Lowndes County story and empower residents & visitors to continue to make a difference.
“It's important for us to know whose shoulders we are standing on,” Meadows said. "If there was no Lowndes County there would not be a resting place for weary marchers from Selma. If there was no Lowndes County, marchers would not be refreshed, revitalized, and ready to face what they would on the steps of the capitol. Lowndes County will forever be important to the movement."
Plans are also in the works to build Tent City Memorial Plaza as a lasting tribute.
"It's just for those Lowndes Countians [sic] who bore the burdens in the heat of the day and these are the folks who stepped out and who took a chance on freedom," said Arthur Nelson Sr. with the Lowndes County Friends of the Civil Right Movement. "They had to live in tents for over two years so that they could have somewhere to stay because once they attended meetings talking about registering to vote, they were kicked off their land and they needed somewhere to go so they moved to Tent City and because of that we're in the process of building a memorial to those people."
Bricks on the memorial will contain the names of those who lived in Tent City and businesses, land owners and community members who assisted during that time will be recognized. The Lowndes County Friends of the Civil Right Movement shared a rendering of the structure which they say will be constructed near Highway 80.
"Often, a lot of times, the people who actually did the work were forgotten about and you only have one or two who get the recognition. So we thank them for thinking of the people who actually did, I think, the hardest part of the work," added Robert Harris, Lowndes County Commission Chairman. "Without people who did those things from Lowndes County, it may still have not been a reality so we thank them for engaging in that activity to help push it through. We have to pay homage to those people and my parents were in that number."
Events in Lowndes County to celebrate the 50th Anniversary:
Thursday: In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voters Registration Act and the Historic March from Selma to Montgomery, Hayneville will host a race relations panel discussion depicting twelve students from private and public schools of Lowndes County. Reverend Courtney Meadows will be the speaker. This event will be conducted on Thursday, March 5 at First Citizens Bank in Hayneville at 5 p.m. Hayneville`s Mayor hopes this event will foster better race relationships in the county.
Friday: Mass Meeting at Mt. Gillard Baptist Church on Highway 80 at 7 p.m. (Reception from 4:30-5:45 p.m.)
Saturday: 9:30 a.m. re-enactment of Tent City & tours throughout the day of 18 different sites connected to the Civil Rights Movement (Freedom House, Jail, Jonathan Daniels Memorial and Viola Liuzzo Memorial)
Sunday: Memorial at 2 p.m. at old gaming center off of Highway 80 across from Lowndes County Interpretive Center, 4-8 p.m. same location- Jazz & Blues Concert (bring lounge chairs, etc. because the concert will be held outside).
All proceeds raised throughout the weekend and at various events will go towards building the Tent City Memorial Plaza.
Officials feel the events will shed light on progress that's been made over the past five decades and the work that's ahead.
"They need to see where we have come and the distance we have to go. We have come a long ways and we still have a few wrinkles to iron out but we will get those ironed out," said David Daniel, Mayor of Hayneville. "I see a bright future for Lowndes County and Hayneville as far as racial issues are concerned. It won't be like 50 years ago. We look back at those times and it's good for us to look back because in looking back, we can more appreciate where we are and where we are going."
"This weekend is all about giving a salute to those who have come before us. To be able to pay our homage and appreciation to them," Rev. Meadows added.