Of Memories and Marches: Maben man tells family’s civil rights journey


Lora Graham. (Submitted photo)


James Graham. (Submitted photo)

By: 
BRIANA RUCKER
Staff Writer

Lora McBride was born Oct. 6, 1913 and later married Artis Graham. The couple settled into her family’s area called the McBride Quarters in Maben.

Together they had 22 children but only eight survived.

Lora saw a lot coming up in the South, but she didn’t sit around waiting for things to change between the black and white.

She grew tired of the senseless violence to her very own people. She was tired of the segregated facilities.

She knew that separate was not equal.

She wanted freedom. Change. Peace.

And she wanted equality.

Lora became a member of the local chapter National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and saw the origins of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1940s to end racial discrimination and develop equal rights and opportunities.

Throughout the years Lora became a local icon as she participated in marches in the Maben community and throughout the South in Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister and civil-rights activist whose efforts towards equality began in the 1950s.

Lora and her son, James Graham made it a priority to become involved with Dr. King and his impact on the South.

Lora worked for voter registration.

“We had people go around teaching people how to go to the poll to register,” James said. “She done that a lot and then she marched a lot.”

During the marches James was a sergeant of arms.

Sergeant of arms kept order at the marches to ensure protection.

“I saw a lot of stuff that a lot of people didn’t see because I was always on the outside of the group of people,” James said.

On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus.

She was arrested and the city buses were boycotted.

Dr. King became president of the Montgomery Improvement Association four days later.

Despite his home being bombed, him being stabbed with a seven-inch blade in his chest and assaulted - Martin Luther King, Jr pleaded for his followers to practice nonviolent demonstrations.

“We were totally nonviolent, I think that’s what saved us because he would always do a prayer,” James said.

At the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963, King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” to an exuberant crowd of more than 200,000 from all over.

Lora and James were in attendance, but they did not go together.

“I saw her in Washington but we just talked as mother and son there,” he said. “Because I knew why she was there and she knew why I was there.”

Preparing for Lora’s trip to Washington was difficult for the family.

The family came together to help her get there as it was an expensive trip.

“The family had to get together and help her get there,” Lora’s daughter-in-law Rose Coffey Graham said.

Her family members and children went with her other times, but not this time. She went alone and it bothered them to see her travel so far by herself.

“Some of the people were saying ‘Oh she’s not coming back because they’re gonna kill her,’” Rose said.

Lora cooked a lot of food during the trips that she took during the movement because she knew that they could not stop anywhere.

When she returned to Maben she told of her experience in Washington.

“Later on she came back and went to Jackson and they were in a march and they used the fairgrounds as a jail for them,” James said. “They hurt some blacks up there.”

Lora was jailed multiple times for peacefully protesting, including the J.L. King Center in Starkville.

The J.L. King Center was used as a jail during the Civil Rights Movement for those who were arrested during the marches.

The experience was unimaginable as officers did anything they could to hurt them.

It didn’t stop James and his mother from participating in marches and sit-ins for equality.

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was a center for meetings and marches in the area.

James remembers sit-ins there before Sept. 15, 1963 when it was bombed with four school-age girls inside who were killed.

He also participated in several sit-ins in Columbus.

“I can remember a lot of things but we had many marches in Starkville,” he said.

Lora participated in marches all over Starkville with Dr. Douglas L. Conner.

In February 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson, an African-American civil rights activist was shot and killed by a state trooper in Marion, Alabama during a peaceful night protest.

That night the streetlights were off and police used that as an advantage to beat the protesters with clubs, but Jackson was shot.

His death inspired the march in Selma on March 7, 1965.

The Selma to Montgomery marches began along the 54-mile highway to Alabama’s capital as a peaceful demonstration to let others know that African Americans desired to vote.

The first march took place on Sunday, March 7.

“He (Dr. King) would always ask if any of us feared what we were doing - we said no, James said.

Dr. King told them “If you fear it, don’t do it because you don’t have faith enough to do what you’re doing.”

Quite a few were scared and didn’t do it, but James wasn’t afraid.

“It was no time to have second thoughts and stuff like that so if you have second thoughts it’s best not to do it,” he said. “We talked about that regularly.”

The march was one of James’ worst experiences in his lifetime. He was 19 years old during the march.

“Any time that they knew we were going to have a march, and you know we had to warn the city or whoever to let them know that we were going to march because we had to have protection,” James said.

To stop them from marching they would spit on them, call them names and even kill them.

“Anything they could do to disgust you they would do it,” James said. “It wasn’t no law for it.”

At marches there were at least 10-12 people with a sergeant of arms on each side.

“They would know who we was. We wore armbands and well…the policeman were supposed to protect us but they did not protect us because they were Klansmen too,” James said. “So we had problems with that.”

When protesters arrived at Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on March 7, they were met with police who used tear gas and their clubs to assault them.

“They just beat us like we were animals, washed us down the street with water hoses, put dogs on us, put us in jail,” James said. “Just anything to disrupt you they were doing it.”

That day became known as the Bloody Sunday.

James vividly remembers how on many accounts he was terrorized just for the color of his skin.

When a friend visited from Boston, he wanted to ride around town.

“I told him that it was going to be rough he said ‘Look man just do it anyway,’” James said.

He knew that innocent rides like that didn’t always end well, but his friend felt that if they were hurt they could use it as a means to continue with their movement.

James drove to town and they were right by the jail when police stopped them.

“During the time that they stopped us one guy was standing there talking to me and another guy was standing on the other side of the car and he dragged my friend out of the car,” James said.

He took James’ friend to jail and told him they didn’t allow that.

“Well we weren’t doing anything besides riding around looking over the town so they pulled me out of the car and put the cuffs on me,” he added. “The worse thing was that I slept in handcuffs all night with my hands behind me and put me on a steel bunk.”

Throughout their experiences during the Civil Rights Movement, they never gave up despite the terrorizing tactics held against them in their efforts.

James called themselves the “Chosen People.”

Lora developed Alzheimer’s Disease, but passed stories down to her children and grandchildren while her memory was good.

She passed away Aug. 27, 1996.

James holds onto the memories that he can of his efforts in the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. King.

“He was a very nice man - no matter what happened he always stayed the same,” James said.

James said the Selma march reenactments on television aren’t completely accurate as they don’t show it all.

“The just show you the parts that they want you to see.”

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