Sheriff Clark is Busy

They sat on the hard bench in the waiting room. The deputy had his feet up on his desk to show the visitors his bored indifference.

Hosea glanced at John, erect and proper in a good blue suit and white shirt, clenched hands the only indication of his growing impatience.

John rose and walked over to the desk. “Excuse me, Deputy, but we’ve been waiting more than an hour.”

The deputy rolled his eyes. “Damn, boy. Y’all city niggers is uppity. Sheriff’s busy today.”

John drew himself even straighter. “Perhaps we should set an appointment to meet with Sheriff Clark at a later time?”

The deputy leaned back in his chair, hooking his thumbs into his gun belt like a movie cowboy. “Can if you want. Won’t say it’ll be any different tomorrow. Nor the next day, either.”

John turned to Hosea. “Let’s go, brother.”

What Pegman Saw: Selma

Historical Note:
In January 1965, Martin Luther King Jr., came to Selma in support of Negro voting rights. Peaceful demonstrations in Selma and surrounding communities resulted in the arrests of thousands, including King, who wrote to the New York Times, “This is Selma, Alabama. There are more negroes in jail with me than there are on the voting rolls.”

The tensions turned violent a few days later when state troopers clubbed protestors and fatally shot 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson, a demonstrator trying to protect his octogenarian mother from being hit by police.

In response, civil rights leaders planned a 54-mile march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. Governor George Wallace ordered state troopers “to use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march,” but approximately 600 voting rights advocates set out from the Brown Chapel AME Church on Sunday, March 7.

King was back in Atlanta with his congregation, so a coin flip determined that Hosea Williams would lead the march along with 25-year-old John Lewis, a future U.S. congressman from Georgia.

The demonstrators made their way undisturbed through downtown Selma. As they began to cross the steel-arched bridge spanning the Alabama River, the marchers gazed up at the name of a Confederate general and reputed grand dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, Edmund Pettus, spelled out in stark black letters across the bridge’s crossbeam. Mounted Alabama state troopers and recently deputized members of the KKK lined the road in front of them.

14 thoughts on “Sheriff Clark is Busy

  1. It takes guts to touch this subject. A high price was paid for freedom, that day. You gave us a glimpse into the character it took to make such change happen.

    I like your description of the march and history too, full of tension and disdain for the local authorities and their use of symbols like the bridge’s beam, to eulogize confederate “heroes” and to thereby oppress the black population through constant reminders.

    1. It’s amazing to me how intractable certain parts of America are. The life that many of the citizens lead is beset with poverty and ignorance, violence and drunkenness. And these people, the poorest of the poor, continually will vote against their own best interests. Thanks for reading and commenting

      1. I assume that you are describing a segment of the current white US population, but it is ironic, that the very same descriptors were probably used, to justify the restrictions on black voting rights, back in the day.

        Voting,to me, is about taking the overall temperature of society. Voting rights belong to ideologically and educationally and motivationally diverse individuals, and despite our “best efforts,” those people will not, necessarily, use their vote, as we might choose them to.

  2. Excellent storytelling and a brilliant job tacking a gritty history. I especially like the understated nature of the piece. I knew at once John and Hosea were black by the subtle things that were said (and not said). I knew it from the first sentence, before the deputy starts up with his vile talk. Well done.

    1. Thanks! I debated on the deputy’s language, but anything other than that would have not been as effective. Still, it’s uncomfortable to write this sort of thing.

  3. Like Karen, I was positive the neat and polite ones were black. The attitude, of the sheriff, you got down pat. You described that setting exactly as I would have pictured it.

  4. Excellent story, Josh. I like the way you use formal English for the words spoken by Hosea and John, and write the deputy’s speech in a southern drawl. That device illuminates the characters of the men, and also their relative status in the exchange.

    1. Thanks, Penny! Glad it’s effective. The African-American organizers were usually college graduates and made a practice of speaking in clear English (the same as wearing suits and ties at all times). It made for a startling contrast to the lawmen who opposed them.

Don't just stand there.