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'Selma' movie rekindles memories for woman who advocated change

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SELMA, Alabama — She was just 11 years old, but determined to join protesters who were preparing to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge and march to Montgomery.

Told it could be dangerous and ordered to stay home, Frankie Hutchins listened obediently, but still didn't like it that Sunday afternoon in 1965.

As things turned out, her mother, Ruby Walker, represented the family and became involved in one of the most dramatic moments in American history.

It would be known as "Bloody Sunday" as a result of actions by Alabama State Troopers who routed 600 peaceful marchers with tear gas and billy clubs.

"My mom was in everything back in those days and was arrested," recalled Hutchins who later became an activist who wouldn't back down from important causes.

Hutchins may not have been able to take part in what happened on March 7, 1965, but, at the age of 61, she wouldn't miss a reenactment for anything in the world.

That's why she waited patiently as Hollywood came calling and amateur actors received instructions at the apex of the Pettus Bridge last week.

Now an official at Selma University, as well as a local pastor, Hutchins knew she may have missed the big moment 49 years ago, but wasn't about to let it happen a second time if only for a reenactment.

"We lived on Water Avenue back then and I was outside playing when I could hear the screaming," she said of the mayhem on the bridge. "It was horrible and I knew my mother was part of what was happening."

An advocate of progressive change, Hutchins makes sure today's beneficiaries of yesterday's sacrifices understand what happened in the 1960s when her parents fought for equal rights.

She did her part, too, becoming one of the first black students at Selma High School when A.G. Parrish High and R.B. Hudson High merged, ending segregation in the largest public school system in the Black Belt of Alabama.

Forced federal integration led angry white parents to build private academies. They basically told the American judicial system where it could put its court orders.

"We lived in two different worlds back then, one white, one black," she said. "I wished I could have stayed at R.B. Hudson, but it wasn't to be."

Hutchins was one of a handful of black students from Hudson who stuck it out in the face of racist rants directed at them as they went to school every day.

She still hasn't forgotten the white girl who often taunted her and threw leaves in her face outside the school.

"I went to the white principal and told him what she was doing," said Hutchins. "He apologized to me and said he would do something about it. He did, and I appreciated it."

She said if she sat down with white students during lunch they'd get up and move away, leaving her there alone.

Eventually, the merger appeared to work as white and black students attended Selma High School together. James Perkins Jr. was in Hutchins' class. In 2000 he became Selma's first black mayor.

It isn't like that today. Selma High is segregated again. Only a handful of white students are enrolled there. Most attend private schools in Selma and surrounding cities. Hutchins is dismayed by what has happened.

What she's most proud of, however, is the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama as America's first black president. It was a day to remember as her family boarded a bus for Washington to take in the historic event.

The Christian Science Monitor, one of the nation's most respected newspapers, selected her family as a sign of change in America.

"It's an indelible memory that Frankie, now the Rev. Frankie Hutchins, will be carrying today as she stands on the National Mall in Washington with more than a million others to watch the inauguration of the first African-American president," wrote the newspaper's Carmen Sisson.

Standing at the Edmund Pettus Bridge last week to watch the filming of a movie called "Selma" brought back memories good and bad.

"It seems I've always been in the public eye but I learned from my parents the importance of standing up for what is right," she said.

With that, she glanced back at the bridge, smiling at the thought of how her relatives and others who joined them in 1965 will be honored when the movie makes its debut in late December.


Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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