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Jack Simpson - Recalling another era of change

Memories are important, particularly as the knees give out, the back aches and we become less mobile. Tired of the television, we sit in the old leather lounge chair, pick a decade, and try to recall meaningful events.

The 1960s were remembered recently because they involved some very important historic events. Perhaps you recollect the civil rights activities of the '60s.

Freedom Riders, blacks, marched to publicize their demands for basic rights. For the most part, their protests were nonviolent. In 1963, they were again reminded of the need for peaceful protest when one of their leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., made his famous "I Have A Dream" speech, in Washington, D.C.

Dr. King was killed in 1968 in Memphis, Tenn., by James Earl Ray. It was 1963 when James Meredith was admitted to the University of Mississippi, and also in that same year when black demonstrators were arrested in Birmingham, Ala.

I particularly recall 1963 as the year when I was assigned as an observer to watch for violations of federal law when Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach confronted Gov. George Wallace at the door of the University of Alabama.

As a federal officer, one of many working in the area, I watched as Gov. Wallace made his stand and Mr. Katzenbach responded, resulting in the peaceful registration of black students Vivian Malone and James Hood to the university. It was a very historic moment and a reminder that peaceful integration of schools and facilities was happening throughout the South.

In that decade, I was also involved in other significant historical events. In 1964, I participated in the Lemuel Penn murder case. I was also a participating federal officer in the James Earl Ray case, as well as the events and bombings in Birmingham. History was in the making all around me, and I was more than an observer. I was a participant.

Following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, my duties included investigating violations of the rights in housing, voting and the use of public facilities. Many of my associates and I did a great deal of public relations work with state, local and community leaders often resulting in facilities being integrated without violence.

You may remember that violence was present in the South in the 1960s. Klansmen often burned homes and churches and intimidated civil rights demonstrators. White supremacy reared its ugly head, and innocent people like U.S. Army officer Lemuel Penn were killed.

At the time, there were still juries in the South that would not convict a white person for killing a black person. There are juries, even in this day and time, that will not give a black person the death penalty for killing a judge, court reporter and law enforcement officers.

During the 1960s, federal interference in local matters was resented. Many fought to preserve "the Southern way" of life. Fortunately, most residents offered full support to law enforcement, realizing the importance of safeguarding the integrity of our judicial system.

Progress was made and continues to be made because law-abiding people turned away from injustice and night riders in white robes. If history teaches us anything, it is that we can only chart our future wisely when we know the path that has led to the present. People must work together to solve their problems.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.