Yesterday, my family traipsed all over Alabama. I had memories of my childhood, where my parents’ special talent seemed to be turning a four hour trip into an eight hour trip. We drove to Moundville, AL and on the way home we came through Selma, AL. In case you didn’t know, the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Movement is this year. Today, the walkers who recreated the 1965 walk from Selma to Montgomery are arriving in Montgomery. We have come so far, but there is still a lot of hate in our world. There are still a lot of people who are denied rights. There is still a lot of racism. Teach your children well, to love all men, and there will be a lot less hate and racism. Hate begets hate. Love begets love.
I took this, not so wonderful cell-phone picture, of the Edmund Pettus bridge from the backseat of a mini-van. Sorry for the glare, but it shows you where my inspiration for this week’s Mid-week Blues Buster came from.
The Hanging Tree
The last few times they’d visited the tree a rope had been hanging from one of the branches, a perfect circle, a hangman’s rope, Pamela knew. They’d put it there as a warning, the men with the tall white hats who ran around haunting the town.
Pamela and Nathan had ridden their bikes down to the five and dime to get a peppermint stick that day. They liked to sit under the shade of the old oak tree on the edge of town and talk.
Danny Risen nodded at them as they left the store, the jingle of the bell following them as they secured their feet on the pedals of their bikes and rode through the town of Selma. Old plantation houses loomed. A town, rich on textiles, and the center of what Pamela’s mother said was the Voting Rights movement. Just a few days before, the march had taken place. Pamela’s mother and father said it was about time. But Pamela knew they were in the minority. The kids at school had nothing good to say about it.
They pedaled, the wind rippling through their hair, out to the edge of town and turned the corner on the dirt road toward the tree.
“Danny Risen is one of them.”
“How do you know?” Pamela asked.
The Ku Klux Klan members in Selma kept their identity a secret, but Nathan always claimed to know who was who.
“They set fire to a cross in front of one of their black preacher’s houses the other day. I heard Bucky talking about it at school. Said his Pa did it. Seemed right proud too.”
They pedaled down the dirt road, but even from this distance Pamela could see the shadow of the man hanging. Her heart sped up as her feet moved faster on the pedals.. She thought maybe if she could get there she could save him. Nathan always chastised her for wanting to save the world. “It’s too big of a task for a girl to take on,” he said.
Nathan had fallen behind, even as Pamela pedaled faster. When they reached the tree, they saw the limp legs, hanging. The shoes untied and the feet at an awkward angle. Pamela slowly moved her eyes up his body, taking in every detail, until she saw his face. Ghostly white and young, his eyes were open, staring into the unknown face of death. There were scratches on his face and neck, where he’d tried to get the rope off his neck as he slowly suffocated to death. Pamela had overheard her father say that when men were hung they danced a jig, their body jerking strangely, as they were slowly deprived of oxygen.
“I thought they put bags on their heads,” Nathan said.
Pamela shook her head, looking down at his feet again, his shoes seemed polish to a tee. This was a proud man, and he’d been pulled from Lord knows where and murdered for no reason. Pamela’s tears fell into the dirt, and Nathan placed a hand on her shoulder.
“There ain’t nothing we can do for him now, Pam. Come on. Let’s go home and tell someone. The least we can do is that, and maybe he can get a proper burial.”
Pamela shook Nathan’s hand off her shoulder.
“We need to get him down.”
“He’s deader than a doornail. A big ‘ole man like that. How do you think we can do that?”
She didn’t answer, and they turned to leave. From then on, her memories of the oak tree weren’t of spring and summer days with Nathan, unwinding and laughing in the shade. Whenever she thought of the oak tree, she’d see the man’s face, bloated with eyes wide open and lips slightly parted as if he was questioning, “Why me?”