Remembering the past and questioning the future
By Natasha Dowdy Gordon
While many Americans were sound asleep at 1 a.m. the Friday morning before the 50th Anniversary of the March On Washington, they had no idea that there was a bus carrying civil rights royalty and members of their families, down the highways, and through the streets of their small towns.
When the Rev. James Orange was arrested in southwest Alabama, where he was organizing a voter’s registration drive, the powers to be in Perry County, charged Rev. Orange with disorderly conduct, and contributing to the delinquency of minors. When rumors began to surface that Reverend Orange was going to be lynched while in the custody of Perry County’s finest, protestors began to organize, to save him, and their attempts lead to them being brutally beaten, and to the needless killing of Jimmy Lee Jackson, whose only crime was protecting his mother and his grandfather from being beaten.
According to Charles Steele, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, it was the violence that occurred there in Perry County Alabama that caused Dr. King and others to say that they would place the body of Jimmie Lee Jackson on the steps of the State Capitol in Montgomery, so that Gov. George Wallace could see just what kind of racist element he harbored in his state. Out of Orange’s arrest and the reaction to it, the infamous and historic March from Selma to Montgomery was born, and that ultimately brought about the 1965 Voter’s Rights bill.
Mrs. Cleophus Orange, the dedicated, and honored widow of Rev. Orange, happily boarded the bus in Atlanta, Georgia with her family to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy and to honor her husband and other giants and heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Mrs. Orange, a decorated figure in her own right, has quite a historic tale to tell of her own. During the 1960’s just as Coretta Scott King had to share Martin with the world, and Myrlie Evers had to share Edgar, Mrs. Orange had to learn that she too would have to share Rev. Orange and not just with the movers and the shakers of the civil rights movement, but also in recent years with Cesar Chaves and those who are fighting for legal status for illegal immigrants, as Reverend Orange helped to organize the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride.
It is never easy when you become a part of something that is larger than yourself, and for most people, that type of a situation can be overwhelming, but not for Mrs. Orange. Short in stature, but a giant in terms of wisdom and personality, Mrs. Orange, is a shining example of just who the first ladies of the Civil Rights Era actually were; Strong, powerful, beautiful, and humble, each and every one of them.
Mrs. Orange is Civil Rights royalty, but you will never hear that from her, she just views her role in the progression of the disenfranchised and minorities in the United States as that of a supportive wife, and her husband’s role in the movement, as something that needed to be done, nothing more and nothing less.
Today BLACKS and other minorities have the option of stopping somewhere to get something to drink or a bite to eat, but those that took the trip to Washington in 1963 had to pack food to take with them. Even a restroom break was an odyssey, as for the most part, BLACKS had to relieve themselves on the sides of the roads that they travelled, and considering what it was like back then, if you were caught, you could be arrested, beaten, or worse.
Mrs. Orange is a wealth of knowledge, and a true treasure as she is welcoming, and willing to impart and share her experiences with everyone she meets. It was amazing to watch as she sat for a little over an hour with the First Lady of Timmonsville, South Carolina, Sabrina Jackson, to speak with her about the importance of supporting her husband, and carving out her place in whatever he is engaged in.
The Mayor of Timmonsville, Darrick Jackson, knew that the bus carrying Mrs. Orange and others was planning to stop at the Iron Skillet off of Highway I-95 in Florence to pick up members of the Wilson High School Class of 1965, so he and his wife were there to meet some of their heroes. The group was thrilled that the mayor had taken the time to meet and greet, and they had words of encouragement, inspiration, and motivation for him as well, with the resounding theme being that he should always work with the best interest of his people in mind, and that he should never give up, no matter how hard things get and no matter who tries to stand in the way of him getting justice for the people that he serves.
Before boarding the bus to continue the ride to Washington, Mrs. Orange stated that although she was happy to be going to the march, she is fearful, that in 50 years, everything that her husband worked for, and so many others like Dr. King, and Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X died for will be gone. Mrs. Orange said that she sees everything around her being rolled back, and that if nothing is done to stop what is going on, the young people of today will have no idea as to how to handle it. Mrs. Orange says that parents must do more to talk about, and to educate their children about the movement, and why voting is so important. In addition, Mrs. Orange also stated that she wants people to understand that Dr. King was not killed because he was fighting for civil rights, but that he was killed because he was fighting for economic stability and equality. Mrs. Orange said that as long as King concentrated on Civil Rights only, folks were just irritated, but when he started to press for economic equality, and getting into the pockets of those that were in control, that was the thing that led to his being killed. “We are back at that place right now, and people need to see and understand that”, Orange said.