BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
“We still haven’t achieved our goal,” reflected local leader Jim Hall as he addressed the Rtary Club of Los Alamos via Zoom on March 2nd. Hall spoke in commemoration of the 56th anniversary of the historic 1965 civil rights marches that led supporters from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, the state capital.
Hall, whose father was a Presbyterian minister in Arlington, Texas, remarked that he has been “involved in civil rights since childhood.” By the time Hall was a college student at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, there was increasing concern that successful implementation of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, or national origin, would be jeopardized because it strengthened voting rights for African-Americans and desegregation of schools. It was a volatile subject, especially in Southern states and particularly in Alabama where Governor George Wallace vehemently opposed the act.
On March 7, 1965, approximately 600 civil rights activists, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., began their peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery to bring attention to registering African-Americans to vote and to protest the death of a young activist in nearby Marion. As soon as they reached the Selma side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were blocked by law enforcement. “A melee ensued” as tear gas was fired. Marchers were clubbed by state troopers with nightsticks and fled back across the bridge. Hall continued, “There is no evidence that the marchers started the confrontation.” This first day of the 58-mile march became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Just two days later, attempting to cross again, King led approximately 2000 marchers. They were stopped by “a phalanx of police” before they even began to cross, as the State of Alabama had received an injunction to halt the marches. Before turning back once more, the crowd knelt in prayer.
They prayed again when the Reverend James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from Boston and member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, died of his injuries after being severely beaten by segregationists after the march. A federal judge soon overturned the injunction against the marches, and President Johnson “mobilized the National Guard.”
The violent response to the marchers made national news, and many supporters rallied. “A group from my college, Macalester College, a Presbyterian institution, supported the march and tried to arrange to go to Selma to join it,” recalled Hall. “However, bus companies were reluctant to rent to us because of concerns of violence. We finally found a bus to rent for five days. We left on the 20th, and after 24-plus hours, we arrived in Selma on the afternoon of the 21st.”
On March 22 and 23, Hall and his college friends marched with a group of several thousand. “It was great to walk along,” even though they were jeered by the white crowd lining the route. Marching next to Hall was Pete Seeger, the well-known folk singer and social activist whose songs If I Had a Hammer, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and Turn, Turn, Turn are musical hallmarks of the era.
During their stay, Hall and his colleagues distributed food and stayed in an African-American church where they were warmly welcomed.
In the early hours of the morning, Hall volunteered with others to help build a speakers’ platform in Montgomery for those who would be featured at the podium later that day. After a stop at an African-American funeral home to load plywood and coffins for the base of the platform, they proceeded to the grounds of St. Jude’s Catholic Hospital which had opened its 36 acres to people awaiting the following day’s march. It was the site that evening of the “Stars of Freedom Rally” concert featuring musicians Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, and Leonard Bernstein.
After completing their task, Hall said they were “advised to stay overnight” because it would be too dangerous for them to be on the road at that time of night. With a steady Southern drizzle settling in, Hall “turned a coffin on its side” and slept under a makeshift roof.
On the 24th, a peaceful protest of over 25,000 marched from the hospital to the State Capitol. It was there that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his How Long, Not Long. . . speech, which Hall believes is as stirring as King’s I Have a Dream speech given in August of 1963 during the March on Washington. “He was a transformative figure.”
Regrettably, Hall and his colleagues missed much of the day’s events because they had to “get back to Selma to catch our rented bus” to Minnesota.
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, securing the right to vote for African-Americans as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“What have we learned from the 60s?” posed Hall. “Well, we must make an effort to change. I have a deep concern for the great decline of the family. We need to ensure that families of color, especially single-parent families, are supported in every way possible” in our schools, in small business, and through programs that provide basic necessities.
To learn more about the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Marches, please go to: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/
Jim Hall says, “I have been unbelievably blessed, or, as a friend of mine says, it’s “‘just dumb luck.’” Hall “started selling magazines door to door” at the age of seven. He went on to become a “janitor and soda jerk” and worked his way through college by working in construction, firefighting, janitorial services (again), and as a research assistant. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Macalester College, a Master’s degree in Management from the University of New Mexico, and has done graduate work in Experimental Psychology and Computer Science at Harvard University and Boston University.
Over time he became a software developer, a Division Leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a consultant in the U.S. and overseas, Cabinet Secretary in the State of New Mexico, and a small business owner. His wife, Janet, with whom he has visited over 60 countries, says Hall has failed at retirement . . . twice.
Hall served on the Board of the Los Alamos Public Schools for 12 years, on the Los Alamos County Council, and as a New Mexico State Representative. He has always found time for service in church and on many boards and commissions.
Hall is no stranger to adventure. He took “a jeep trip to and from New Mexico to the other side of the Panama Canal in the summer of 1963 camping out all the way.” He was a hotel management trainee in Hong Kong in 1964, followed by his “first around-the-world trip on the lowest budget possible.” He has lived in Brazil and Argentina, taken trains from Finland to China, and has “hiked all over the world, and backpacked in Colorado and New Mexico.” A special pleasure for Hall is time spent with Janet, their four children and their families.
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos, through its Club Foundation, is a 501(c) 3 non-profit and one of over 34,000 clubs worldwide. Rotary, which now has 1.5 million members, was founded in 1905; the local Club was chartered in 1966. Rotary areas of focus include promoting peace; fighting disease, particularly polio; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; supporting education; saving and enhancing the lives of mothers and children; growing economies; and protecting the environment.
To learn more about the Rotary Club of Los Alamos and its charitable service, please contact: Laura Gonzales, President, 699-5880 or Skip King, Membership chair, 662-8832.