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.”
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.