“Where are you going next?” asked the young woman who was checking us out of our Marietta, Georgia hotel. She said it in a bored “I’m required to ask you” voice.
“Selma,” Mr. History Tourist said.
She responded, “Nice,” in a tone that clearly indicated that (1) she could not have cared less and (2) she had no clue where or what Selma was.
I was a little surprised that she didn’t know anything about Selma, Alabama. She may not have paid attention in history class, but there’d been a major, Oscar-winning movie about it last year. Oprah was in it, for goodness sake. But my focus was on getting to the closest Waffle House for breakfast, so I only gave her a second’s though before moving on to maple-drizzled reflections.
Mr. HT, however, was not going to let her get away with it. When she came out from behind the desk to hold the door open for us and our mammoth and multiple suitcases, he asked, “Do you know about Selma and Bloody Sunday?” The American Bloody Sunday, not the Irish one.
Bloody Sunday in Selma was the beginning of the end of institutionalized voting discrimination in the US and the beginning of the beginning of full citizenship rights for African Americans.
The 15th amendment to the Constitution, ratified on February 3, 1870, spelled out that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But State legislators are a shifty bunch and easily got around the law by applying other requirements — requirements that weren’t based on race, color or former status as slaves, but which, nonetheless, targeted the African American population. Most people know about the literacy tests designed to deny suffrage to blacks. But do you know how they got around not excluding illiterate whites, of which there were many in the rural south in the late 19th/early 20th centuries? A Grandfather Clause allowed an illiterate person to vote if he was descended from someone who was eligible to vote before 1867.
Welcome to the South in the mid-20th century.
You’ll hear the rest of the story in the next couple of posts but the Hilton receptionist heard it right then from Mr. HT. There was only so much he could convey in the two minutes that she stood there, holding open the door, but as we walked away, she said, “I’ll have to look it up.”
And she didn’t sound like she didn’t care.