Saturday, June 30, 2012

Selma Treasures Part I: Mrs. Richie Jean Jackson

Mrs. Richie Jean Jackson, author of "The House by the Side of the Road"

Selma has many treasures. One of them is Mrs. Richie Jean Jackson and her house by the side of the road. I would love to take the credit for us meeting her, but the truth is, I owe it all to Cynthia. Cynthia is one of my cousins who lives in Maryland.  We grew up like sisters. Cynthia LOVES coming to Selma to visit. On this particular visit to Selma she wanted to find gifts to take with her on an upcoming trip to Africa where she planned to visit some schools. She had purchased a book on the internet called "The House by the Side of the Road" by Richie Jean Jackson. She read that the author still lived in Selma, so we set out on a quest to get the books signed to be given as gifts to some schools and families in South Africa.

There is probably one degree of separation in Selma which never ceases to amaze me. It is part of the charm of small-town living. We asked my husband's uncle if he knew a Mrs. Richie Jean Jackson. He replied "You mean Jean Jackson whose husband was a dentist?" We had no idea. He said he knew her but he was unsure if she still lived in Selma. Our hearts sank. We then stopped by to see my mother-in-law and she replied "Mrs. Jackson? Sure I'll call her, get me the phone book" and just like that we had a connection to living history.

Mrs. Jackson is a feisty senior who has all of her faculties about her, and yours and mine too! As soon as we walked in the door, we knew who was boss. She was welcoming, but direct. She guided us to some seats and began to tell her story...our story...history. "Martin spent a lot of time at our house...he was a friend. Most of the time when he came he didn't even bring clothes. He would just wear my husband's clothes because they were about the same size.  (Laughing) Some of those clothes I still haven't gotten back!!"

Mrs. Jackson was referring to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  During the Civil Rights Movement Dr. King and those traveling with him often stayed at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Jackson.  During her working years Mrs. Jackson had been an educator.  She said that she had been asked many times to write a book about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement and for many years she refused. She said that he was a friend and she did not want to exploit the relationship.  However, after reading many inaccurate stories of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, she became disenchanted and therefore compelled to document her own accounts of the man, and the movement. She wanted to tell the true story based on her family's actual experience with this remarkable human being, a family friend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King was real, a regular person who did extraordinary things according to Mrs. Jackson. She talked about how he prayed and sang in the morning, and how he slept hard at night. Mrs. Jackson laughed as she recounted the nights she would have to go into his room to wake him up out of a snoring sleep because President Lyndon Johnson was on the phone...their house phone.  She talked about the extraordinary things that many ordinary people did during the Civil Rights Movement.  With her words she brought 1965 into 2012, and we were mesmerized.

When we were offered a tour of her home we graciously accepted the invitation as she said she did not give tours often.  She told us that she had not changed any of the furniture in the house and pointed out a small secretary where she said Dr. King wrote many of his speeches.  She showed us her dining room area and the very table where the Voting Rights Act was written.  She said that Dr. King was invited to come to Washington, DC to be with the President and other dignitaries as they presented the document to the world.  He declined.  He wanted to be in Selma, AL.  He wanted to be with the people with whom he had stood side by side.

As we shared our gratitude and well wishes with this living legend, she shared with us her one wish.  No stranger to Nobel Peace Prize Winners, she has had both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Ralph Bunch to sit at the secretary in her house. Without cameras or press, she would like for President Barack Obama to spend a few seconds sitting there too...a small thing to ask from one of the foot soldiers, an extraordinary woman in the background who in her own way helped to create the reality of a President Obama.  She and her family shared their house by the side of the road with this phenomenal human being, who in turn shared his dream with all of us, many of us before we were even born. Together, they helped to create a better world than the one they were born into, and we are truly thankful.

"Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better."  -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Once again, thanks for reading.

Book Cover:  The House by the Side of the Road

Cynthia and Mrs. Jackson sitting by the secretary where Dr. King wrote some of his speeches.

Cynthia and Mrs. Jackson at the conclusion of our visit.
Dr. King slept in this bed and talked on that phone!
The voting rights act was written at this table.

 Purchase the book at


*If you are visiting Selma, this book can be purchased from the Selma Interpretive Center, a national parks site.

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