Voting Rights March celebrated in White Hall

Published 1:13 pm Thursday, March 16, 2023

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Lowndes County residents and visitors from across the state gathered in White Hall on March 4 to honor foot soldiers of the 1965 Voting Rights March and highlight the county’s part in the movement at the First Annual Bloody Sunday Jubilee Celebration Fest.

The event honored march participants still living as well as those already deceased with a celebration sponsored by the Lowndes County Area Chamber of Commerce (LCACOC) and hosted in the Southern Star Entertainment Center parking lot.

The celebrations featured live music, a presentation of awards, and classic cars driven by members of the Bloody Sunday Jubilee Motorcade (BSJMC). 

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BSJMC Chairman Burgess Bailey described the purpose of the festival, which he said included highlighting Lowndes County’s role in the movement and honoring the people who participated in the effort.

“The objective was to acknowledge and remember the foot soldiers,” Bailey said. “Foot soldier is a term associated with persons involved with the movement, the equal voting rights march. They usually are acknowledged as a group, collectively, but this year we want to acknowledge, honor, and remember all our foot soldiers who are still living and to never ever forget the ones who have transitioned.”

Posthumous award were presented honoring former Lowndes County Sheriff John Hulett, Robert “Bob” Mants, Jr., and J.C. Coleman, Sr. Also honored during the celebration were Ester Jordan, John Jackson, Napoleon Mays, Mary Mays Jackson, Nellie Nelson, LaRue Smith, Sr. along with Jerry Alfred, host and president of Southern Star Entertainment.  

Honoree Napolean Mays noted that 58 years have passed since the march and said it was time to tell the story of how Lowndes County people participated in the movement.

“When you talk about Selma, everybody knows what went down in Montgomery,” Mays said. “But they had a gap in between that. Everybody wants to tell our story who doesn’t know it. I joined [the march] right there on County Road 23 when they were walking to Montgomery. I was 15 years old.

“We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. We are sleeping people. We have to wake up. Because if we don’t wake up, they will take our history away from us. When we had this movement there were all types of people: White, Black, Jews. We can’t do it by ourselves. We have to work together.”

A sign displayed at the event listed the names of all the foot soldiers who marched in 1965 and Bailey pointed to a few he remembered personally.

“Here, we have the names of a lot of the foot soldiers,” Bailey said. “What we did was to acknowledge them individually. Back in 2015, a Congressional Medal was presented to them. Not everyone was present at that time, so we made this sign. We added a note to present any foot soldier (with recognition.) So, when a footsoldier comes out (to these events) we will present them with an award.” 

Pastor Jay C. Coleman and Cynthia Payton Carter co-hosted the event and Coleman also served as emcee.

“The people in Lowndes County have the spirit to do something, to move forward,” Coleman said. “What we have to do now as citizens and descendants of Lowndes County is instill that spirit in our young people so that they can still have that spirit to do something.”

White Hall Police Chief Alvetta Coates welcomed guests to the celebration and Henry Caregie, Jr. opened the event with prayer.

Bailey explained Lowndes County’s part in the 1965 Voting Rights March.

“When people participated in the successful march from Selma to Montgomery, on March 21-25, 1965, the majority of the distance between Selma and Montgomery is in Lowndes County,” Bailey said. “Also, when people were marching, they had to spend overnight somewhere. There were three campground sites here in Lowndes County and that’s one of the key roles the county played.”

Bailey also acknowledged that Lowndes County was home to Tent City, an area formed to accommodate sharecroppers evicted from their homes for supporting the voter rights movement.

“One of the repercussions that came about if someone was a sharecropper and known to support voting rights was that they would get tossed off the land,” Bailey said. “You hear about Tent City. That was located here in White Hall.”

Dr. Ozelle Hubert, President and Interim Executive Director of the LCACOC closed the event, thanking the people who came out to support the recognition of Lowndes County’s part in the voting rights movement.

“This is our inaugural program,” Hubert said. “One of the things we want to do is promote the Selma to Montgomery march by way of Lowndes County. Our slogan is, ‘45 strong. Come build with us.’ Always remember where there is love and unity, there is strength and power. The time for change is now. If not now, when?”