Published 12:00 am Friday, January 4, 2008
Charles E. Cobb Jr. has written another spectacular regional book about the civil rights struggle.
If you’re unfamiliar, Cobb is a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists. He has also been a familiar face on PBS’ “Frontline” and “National Geographic.”
Several years ago, he and Bob Moses teamed up to write “Radical Equations,” a book about Moses’ algebra project in the Mississippi Delta.
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Now, this veteran of civil rights and former field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the Mississippi Delta has put together a travelogue of sorts of the struggle called, “On the Road to Freedom.”
Through nine chapters, Cobb takes his readers through the entire South &8212; up, down and around.
Most interesting in this book published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, N.C., is its introduction, which begins with a tour by Joanne Bland at the Voting Rights Museum and Institute here in Selma with a group of high school students from Milwaukee, Wis.
“The small museum Joanne is guiding us through was established through local grassroots efforts in 1992 in the shadow of Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. The bridge, which arches across the muddy Alabama River, became an infamous site when, on March 7, 1965, state police troopers and a sheriff’s posse opened fire with tear gas and then, swinging nightsticks, charged into and savagely beat civil rights marchers, most of whom were local people protesting the killing of a farm laborer and civil rights activist Jimmy Lee Jackson.”
Cobb says the book has two purposes: to tell stories that will lead to understanding of the civil rights movement and to act as a guide to some sites of significant events.
In chapter seven, Cobb writes about Selma, which he calls “the starting point of what is perhaps Alabama’s most famous civil rights ‘moment.'”
Cobb is referring to the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march.
The entire stretch of U.S. 80 is a National Historic Trail. There’s the Voting Rights Trail Interpretive Center between mile markers 105 and 106. The center has photographs and other items from the march. That’s where, according to Cobb, folks set up a tent city that sheltered 40 black families after white landowners booted them from their land where they worked as tenant farmers. These 40 families had tried only to register to vote.
In Selma, Cobb tells the story of
how during Reconstruction this city was home to black city councilmen, congressmen and judges. There also was a strong black middle-class, including the owner of the Interlink Cotton Gin Co. Cobb says the first black policeman ever hired in Alabama was hired in Selma in 1867.
It was here, said Cobb, that Jeremiah Haralson, a former slave, beat Edmund Pettus, the Confederate hero, in the 1872 election for a seat in the state legislature. It was here that Benjamin Sterling Turner ran the St. James Hotel before the Civil War for his &8220;owner.&8221; After the war, Turner would become the city&8217;s first black city councilman, the first black tax collector of Dallas County, and he was elected to Congress in 1870.
The city has a self-guided civil rights tour that begins at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Street and Jefferson Davis Avenue. The irony is not lost on Cobb, who points out that in this city there are 20 memorials.
Other chapters dealing with Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and other areas read just as real and present their sites.
If I was still teaching history today, I&8217;d take my students on this tour because
reading Cobb is similar to walking through history. If for nothing more than the local names and places, it&8217;s a must-read.
Leesha Faulkner is executive editor of The Selma Times-Journal. She may be reached at 410-1730 or firstname.lastname@example.org.