Author: Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Price: $24.95 (Cloth)
06/27/2011 The 1899 poem by Sam Walter Foss from which this title is taken ends "Let me live in my house by the side of the road / and be a friend to man."
It's a sentimental poem, but somehow appropriate to this charming memoir.
Richie Jean Sherrod was the wife of Sullivan Jackson, a black dentist in Selma who trained at Meharry Dental School.
During the Movement days their modest house on a quiet Selma street became a refuge, a hotel and a forward headquarters for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis, Andrew Young, and just about everyone else in the leadership of the civil rights movement.
The big studies of the Movement have mostly been written, but we can look forward, I think, to more and more of these small and personal accounts.
Mrs. Jackson remembers with pride and awe many of the events that happened in her home. One night, with Dr. King on the phone constantly to the White House, the Voting Rights Bill was, basically, drafted in her living room, the participants working for hours to get the language just right.
On another occasion, there were two Nobel Peace Prize winners sitting at her dining room table, Dr. King and Ralph Bunche who had had a long, distinguished career as diplomat and undersecretary at the United Nations.
On the morning of the march to Montgomery, Jackson recounts how Rabbi Abraham Heschel of the Jewish Theological Seminary set up his prayer station on the coffee table and Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Church set up his on the mantel. The Jacksons' daughter, Jawana, saw Archbishop Iakovos and announced , "Mamma, Santa Claus is here."
Many planning meetings were held in that house, with ferocious debates and disagreements. Jackson notes how Dr. King heard all points of view but then insisted that no matter how heated the opinions, they should all "leave the house united" and never allow a sense that "all was not calm and steady in the leadership."
The Jacksons ran serious risks allowing their home to be known as King's headquarters but their determination was made of iron. Dr. Jackson, with his BA from the University of West Virginia, service in Europe in WWII and dental degree had been denied the right to vote in Dallas County.
The white leadership of Selma and Dallas County comes in for some criticism, of course, but it's not entirely what the reader might expect. Of Sheriff Jim Clark, Jackson writes "bless his heart wherever he is. If his heart had not been filled with so much hate, the movement would have had some problems, but we could always count on him to give the correct amount of fuel to the fire when it was needed. He did not realize his contribution."
When Clark had a heart attack, they all prayed he would soon be well and back on the job.
Mayor Joseph T. Smitherman receives gentle pity. Whatever his true feelings, he had to contend with receiving orders from George Wallace, Al Lingo of the state police and Sheriff Jim Clark. "Bless his heart, he was having a hard time!"
That phrase illustrates the tone of this book—while generous, Jackson is not naïve; she is perceptive, candid and, when needed, gently ironic.