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‘I Marched in Selma’

Portland locksmith recalls the beatings and arrests

Christa McIntyre | 2/21/2017, 5 p.m.
52 years ago, Portland locksmith and business owner J.J. Moore participated in the historic Selma to Montgomery marches to protest ...
J.J. Moore, the longtime owner of Affordable JJ Lock and Key in northeast Portland, was only a teenager when he participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches that drew Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders to Alabama and led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Photo by Christa McIntyre

He recalled how police officers took him and his friend and neighbor Willie Travis Bonner to a cattle yard. There, police ordered the protesters to put their hands up against the barn walls. Officers told everyone to be quiet, and when his friend kept talking, a police officer took a 6 volt cattle prod to Bonner’s leg until the skin broke and bled.

All of the arrested protesters were next taken to the Selma jail, Moore remembers.

“Lucky I had money on me; because I think they kept us in jail for three days or so,” he said. “I was able to have the guards go to the vending machines and get some stuff out of them so I could eat. I also had a long jacket to sleep under. You have nothing to sleep with, just a bare cell.”

On March 7, 1965, activists decided to march from Selma to Alabama’s capitol, Montgomery in an event that would become known as “Bloody Sunday.” The first leg of that journey meant crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Moore remembers the reaction by a sheriff’s posse to the first attempt to cross the bridge:

“They shot the teargas, set the dogs and horses on us. I’d never smelled teargas before. It was scary. My eyes were watering. We just all took off and ran across the bridge and tried to get to the church. Matter of fact, when I went into the church, there was teargas in the church. I couldn’t breathe in the church and I had to get out of the church.”

The images of beaten and bloodied men, women and teenagers shocked the nation and Dr. King was able to persuade President Johnson to pass the voting rights act.

Moore went on the final march from Selma to Montgomery, a 54 mile long journey made safe by President Johnson’s National Guard troops who were sent to protect the Civil Rights protesters from Sheriff Clark and the Ku Klux Klan. By the end of the five day trek, Moore was exhausted. He snuck into a press tent, where he was offered food and comfortable rest. From inside the tent he heard the sounds and voices of an all- star concert put on by Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone and others.

As a student, Moore picked up a love for history which continues to this day. Swept up into a defining moment of strength and bravery in black history, Moore looks back, proud he was able to participate.

“I was young at the time and it was fun for a while, because they let you out of school. When they turned the dogs and teargas on us, it wasn’t fun no more,” he said. “The whole thing about it is that things do change. Since that happened, the same building that where my mom and dad tried to register to vote, where they blocked them, since then, there have been three black mayors. There’s a black mayor there now.”