Reunion honors teachers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 23, 2005

It was chance she had to take.

That’s how former teacher Dorothy L. Gardner described her decision to march with 108 other members of the Selma Teachers Association in protest of the Jim Crow laws preventing them from registering to vote.

“We wanted freedom and justice,” she said. “They threatened our jobs if we marched, but it was something we had to do. It was a very serious affair, but it made you feel good to do something worthwhile. I knew we were going to have a lot to look forward to.”

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On Jan. 22, 1965, led by the Rev. F.D. Reese, the Selma Teachers Association marched two-by-two from Clark Elementary School to the Dallas County Courthouse in an attempt to register to vote.

Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark and his deputies stopped them at the courthouse steps. Police pushed the marchers back with clubs, threatened them with arrest and eventually sent them back home.

The teachers’ actions ended a stalemate in the Voting Rights Movement, said march participant Lawrence Huggins.

Approximately 25 of those marchers came together on Friday at The Gathering Place on Water Avenue to reflect on that fateful day 40 years ago.

Reese recounted the meetings and events leading up the march, and the reactions from the community as they walked to courthouse that day.

“I saw parents and students shouting and cheering. They said ‘now my teacher is engaged in this movement'” Reese said. “All the way to the county courthouse there were people standing on the street watching us march.”

Reese also recalled the hero’s welcome the marchers received when they returned to Brown Chapel Church.

Those who attended the reunion each had stories of their own.

Former teacher Robert Perry talked about his fears of losing his job and his property.

“I had three children at home. I was thinking about my sons, my loans and my life,” Perry said. “These things went through your mind, but once you got into it, it was hard to get out. I do not regret it.”

Sally Jackson, former Principal at New Knox School, said she felt compelled to march because so many of her students were involved in the movement.

“We couldn’t let them (students) get out there and show they were better than we,” Jackson said. “Thank God we had Reese to guide us, and I am thankful he’s still around to tell everyone our story.”

“People ask me ‘why was the movement great?'” Reese said. “It became great when the teachers decided to march.”