Leaders Agree: Preserve Valuable History

Readers may recall the position this column took last year with respect to Black History Month. That column suggested we end the practice of defining and separating our history by race. On 7 November 1994, a group of Alabama’s civic and political leaders took an important step toward combining American civil rights history. U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson organized this historic meeting.

They came to the Federal Courthouse in Montgomery to give testimony and listen to others testify before the General Services Administration (GSA). GSA was in Montgomery to solicit and receive comments regarding a proposed civil rights museum. The proposal calls for preserving the Greyhound Bus Station next to the present courthouse and developing it into a museum in conjunction with constructing a new courthouse.

Many of the federal judges attended the meeting. Judge Thompson introduced them: Circuit Judges Joel Dabina and Judge Ed Carnes, District Judges Ira DeMent and Judge Harold Albritton and Magistrate Judge Vanzetta McPherson.

Judge Thompson recognized Montgomery’s Mayor and commented; “Mayor Folmar, we are pleased to have you here in this capacity.” He then completed individual introductions by recognizing the former Attorney General and Governor, John Patterson, who now serves on the [Alabama] Court of Criminal Appeals.

First to speak was Mr. Ed Bridges, Director of the Alabama Archives and History. He provided a “historical background” of the courthouse. The main purpose for his presence at the meeting he said, was to stress, “… the importance of the decisions made in this Court for Alabama and national history.”

He told us how the cases in this Court led to the restoration of legal rights for African Americans. He told us how he believed that cases in this Court helped “liberate white people from the burden of enforcing a system of segregation that was clearly at odds with the beliefs that they espoused.” Mr. Bridges concluded by telling how he believed that cases from this Court “… have contributed to building nationally, and internationally, a precedent, for addressing major injustices in our society through legal procedures.”

Mr. Larry Oaks, Director of The Alabama Historical Commission, spoke next. His comments were also very supportive for the museum. Then Mrs. Johnnie Carr, Montgomery’s legendary civil right worker, offered her support and encouragement for using the Greyhound Bus Station to establish a civil rights museum.

Then Judge Patterson, who as Attorney General defended bus segregation in this courthouse during the 1950s, spoke from his personal knowledge of some of the historic events that took place here. He told the panel that the “… site merits more than would ordinarily be done at a typical site for a Federal District Courthouse.” Judge Patterson gave a wonderful speech. “The decisions handed down here,” he said, “have had a far reaching effect on the lives of our people, on the structure of our government, [and] our society.”

As this distinguished Alabama citizen spoke one could have heard the proverbial “pin-drop.” During his testimony he said, “I think that I speak for a lot of people… That we would like to see a development here that is going to preserve what happened. It would be a place for people to come and see firsthand, and realize what has taken place here.” Concluding his remarks he said, “Now, there is no question in my mind that the decisions handed down in this courthouse affected the development of our nation… And this makes this location worthy of a real splendid installation.”

Representative John Knight and others speaking in support of a civil rights museum followed Governor Patterson. Then Mayor Folmar testified. Mayor Folmar expressed his full support for the museum. He said, “History are facts, and I think history ought to be preserved.” He mystified the room momentarily when he said, “I may be the only person in this room who was there when the riots took place.” Then he described how he and his wife, not knowing the riot was taking place, drove by the bus station and actually witnessed the brutality.

Mr. Joe Reed followed Mayor Folmar. An ASU student at the time of the riots, he mused openly for New York Times coverage of these historic proceedings equal to that received for the riots. He expressed his satisfaction with the tone of the testimony. Mr. Reed commented upon the courage Governor Patterson displayed by attending the meeting and giving his remarkable testimony. He also spoke highly of Judge Frank Johnson, the courageous federal judge, who rendered many of the historic decisions handed down in this courthouse.

At 5:19 p.m., following a few closing remarks by The Chief U.S. Judge for the Middle District of Alabama, this remarkable 49 minute Manifestation of Martin Luther King’s dream ended.


Originally Published: 1 February 1995, Montgomery Advertiser

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