Standing up for the right thing

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

The threats came at night.

“They would call and say, ‘Is your husband getting his name off that petition?’ I’d say no and they’d say ‘We’re coming to get you tonight,'” said Lucile Hunter “I’d say, ‘You’d better bring enough to take care of us.'”

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Now, more than 40 years later,

the wife of the Rev. J.D. Hunter – a member of the Courageous Eight-is older and physically, she appears frail. But that’s just appearances.

When she talks about getting a .22 rifle and a load of cartridges to stay up all night on watch, the determined women willing to back her husband, her race and protect her family is still there and still strong.

“I remember a time or two, I called some of the people like Mrs. (Amelia) Boynton and I’d say, ‘We just got a call, they may destroy us tonight,’ I said. ‘(But) we’re all going down together,'” she says with a cold fire that is still evident after four decades.

“I had a .22 rifle. I had went and bought a whole lot of cartridges. It would shoot one time and you’d have to reload it.

I said, ‘I’m going to be the one to shoot.’ They had to come over a little hill, I said, ‘I see anybody come over the hill and I’m going to start shootin’.'”

Lucile is still the family matriarch. Her husband died a few years ago but her five children are carrying on his legacy, while she protects

the memory of J.D. like she did her family all those years ago.

“All of us feel like we must be careful in what we do,” said their son Phillip, a contract attorney with the U.S. Government in Maryland. “We do feel an obligation to stand up against wrongness wherever we find it. It’s because of my father and mother in that regards, I would say we ask ourselves what would my father do? Would he take a stand?”

It is hard to imagine an instance in which the answer to that question would be no.

The Rev. J.D. Hunter spent his life taking stands.

He took a stand before the civil rights movement was really even a movement.

As the head of the local NAACP, Hunter was a local leader. Before Brown Vs. Board of Education, he filed a petition to integrate the schools with the school board. White people called

his house and threatened his family, if he did not take his name off.

“My husband said he’d die with his name on that petition,” Lucile said.

“There was a lot of danger involved,” Phillip said.

“When I look back today, I don’t see how he survived because he really was an activist before it became popular. He was out there so often; we just took it for granted. Some of his accomplishments we didn’t really pay attention to at the time.”

“There were 29 people on that petition,” his daughter Jaquelyn Marshall said, “16 of them had lost their jobs within a month.”

“It was kind of awful during that time,” Lucile said. “My children, they all were small my husband couldn’t have a job.”

The Rev. Hunter and his family survived more than physical threats.

J.D. was blacklisted.

He couldn’t get a job or a loan and the electricity would be cut off for months at a time.

Still, he survived.

He got around town on a bicycle. He sold insurance for black-owned and operated insurance companies.

He formed newspapers, ‘The Mirror’ and ‘The Citizen’, and had the kids help deliver them.

He sold things at curb markets.

Still, his most popular venture was cake flavorings.

“Oh man, people would go crazy for his flavorings,” Phillip said.

“He saw in a magazine how to make the flavor, so he ordered it,” Lucile said, adding the children would help mix it up in tubs. “It was very good flavor, everybody liked that flavor.”

Lucile said the family was poor, but the children never went without.

“We never went hungry a day in our lives, we always had something to eat because we had gardens,” she said. ” They may not never had money but our children felt right. They always was clean, they always looked nice when they went out.”

Lucile made sure they never went without.

A nurse on the night shift at the old Baptist Hospital on Water Ave., Lucile also tended the garden and later sold peas to help keep the family fed.

“She was very strong, see my mother was really most of the bread winner,” Marshall said. “She protected us all she could, she worked and she worked hard. She’s a strong religious person and she was behind my daddy, she was behind him 100 percent.”

As the movement picked up speed, the establishment tried to beat it back.

Sheriff Jim Clarke told him the NAACP had been outlawed.

As a member of a steering committee for the Dallas County Voter’s League, Hunter and seven others continued meeting in secret after public meetings had been banned. They worked on a plan to bring national attention to the movement

Later, Hunter along with the Rev. F.D. Reese, Amelia Boynton, James Gildersleeve, Marie Foster, Earnest Doyle, the Rev. Henry Shannon Jr. and Ulysses Blackmon, became known as the Courageous Eight.

The children became involved in the movement as well. Joshua was hit in the head with at bat in front Swift Drugs on Broad Street for trying to get a hamburger at the food counter, Lucile said.

Jacquelyn had her 16th birthday on the March to Montgomery and Lucile said Phillip was tear-gassed on ‘Bloody Sunday.’

“Phillip was up there near the front when they tear gassed them. He couldn’t see and he liked to went over in the river,” she said. “Phillip was more into than any of the children during that time. It was pretty rough.”

But following J.D’s lead, the family refuses to hold grudges.

“I never had been able to hold hatred or meanness or madness,” Lucile says. “Hatred will eat your soul up. My momma always said, ‘There’s something good in everybody.'”

“We never heard him express hate words against anyone, even in spite of the conflicts he was going through,” Phillip said. “As a result we don’t even use the word ‘hate.'”

The Hunters say their father’s legacy doesn’t begin or end with the civil right’s movement. A minister most of his life, J.D. Hunter took the family to rural churches in the Black Belt each Sunday with only a few people in the pews.

“He’d deliver his sermon like there was a thousand people in the church,” Phillip said.

For that sermon, his payment would often be simply a chicken basket for lunch.

Maybe it’s those Sundays on the road together as a family that helped build the family’s faith.

Phillip teaches Sunday school and says his brother John is active in his Montgomery church.

Jaquelyn carries on her father’s radio ministry every Sunday morning on WHBB.

“He had a good legacy. He was really the type of person you looked up to,” Jaquelyn said. “He installed within me and my brothers a firm belief in God. We miss him but we know he’s the master.”

Jaquelyn also called her father a “genius in books.”

“He was a well-read person, had a lot of books in the house,” Phillip said. “He loved to read so he imparted that reading to his children.”

He went on to be a two-term city councilman in Selma.

According to his family, Hunter stood for what he believed to be right and didn’t bother with racial politics.

“My father was a straight-shooter, ” Phillip said. “He was more or less an issue type person so if a white councilperson advanced an issue he supported, he would support it. It wasn’t a white/black issue.”

In fact, Lucile says her husband was often criticized for supporting ideas set forth by former Selma Mayor Joe Smitherman.

“My husband was a fair dealing person,” Lucile said. “He didn’t hate anybody. When he was on the council he didn’t fight for just the blacks, he took up for the whites, too. My husband said why can’t everybody meet together and get along good? We are all God’s children, why can’t we get along right?”

Though he died, Hunter’s legacy is alive in his children and grandchildren. John is a real-estate broker in Montgomery, Louise Inez works at a rehab center in Birmingham.

Joshua is a designer/decorator in New York City.

The grandchildren are coming through college and building careers and families of their own, all on the bedrock of the upraising Lucile and J.D. gave them.

For some living up to J.D. and Lucile Hunter’s legacy would be a burden, the Hunters don’t look at it that way.

“I don’t think there’s pressure on any of us to live up to a legacy,” Phillip said. “He didn’t put that pressure on us. We just try to be good individuals and stand up for what’s right.”