Cleophus Hobbs Day
Saturday, June 10, 2006
David Hall Campsite 1 on the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail
Sponsored by the White Hall Village Educational Association
Here's the story:
After my trip to Mississippi for the 41st Annual Chaney Goodman Schwerner Memorial, I spent some time in Montgomery, Alabama with Scott B. Smith and Linda Dehnad, both from SNCC. ScottB was a SNCC worker in Alabama, with Stokely Carmichael, Bob Mants and Jimmy Rogers. They helped organize the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, which was the local political organization. The symbol of the organization was the black panther, which was its origin as a symbol for Black militant groups. Lowndes County is the county situated between Montgomery County and Dallas County (which includes Selma).
ScottB was known as the Bone Man because he wore a bone around his neck to urge everyone to get together like Ezekiel's dry bones, to register to vote at the Lowndes County jail house. Whites placed voter registration at the jail house as a means to intimidate African American voters out of registering. The jail house was a place where African American men went in, frequently "disappearing," never to be heard from again. When family members came to inquire after their incarcerated loved one, they were told that the prisoner had been released and law enforcement officials did not know where the prisoner had gone.
On Monday and Tuesday of this week, ScottB took me around Lowndes, Montgomery, and Dallas Counties to familiarize me with the work that he did with local communities and with some of the current conditions of African American life in those same communities today.
On Tuesday one of our stops was at the home of Johnny and Betty Hall, members of the family of Mr. David Hall, who owned the property that was the first campsite on the Selma to Montgomery March. David Hall was an African American landowner on Highway 67, off Route 80, which runs east-west through Alabama, making the major route between Montgomery and Selma (and further west to Perry County, which was where Jimmie Lee Jackson was murdered by police, leading to the Selma to Montgomery March). David Hall had not been particularly involved in the Civil Rights Movement, but when he observed the beatings of marchers on Bloody Sunday, he drove his truck the eight miles into Selma, to the Brown Chapel AME Church to offer his land as a campsite for the civil rights marchers. Johnny and Betty Hall presently live on the land David Hall offered for the marchers' use.
When we arrived at the Halls' home, we were met by some of Mr. and Mrs. Hall's grandchildren, who explained that their grandfather was on his way home from the hospital, where he had recently had heart surgery. They called him on his cell phone, and when he heard it was ScottB, Mr. Hall asked that we wait for them to get home. There were chairs set up in front of the garage, so we sat down and watched two of the grandchildren, an adorably pudgy twenty-two month old boy with cornrows and a pretty, slender girl of seven or eight, play out in the driveway, he on his big wheel and she on her bicycle with training wheels.
While we sat there, ScottB started to tell me about Cleophus Hobbs, who lives just down the road in Sunshine Village. Mr. Hobbs was a SNCC worker who was well respected in Lowndes and Dallas Counties. He wore a cowboy hat and carried a gun. He was shot at a number of times by whites and shot back in self-defense. The non-violent philosophy was not dominant in rural areas of Alabama, like Lowndes County, where Klan violence was such that fighting back was often a necessity. Cleophus Hobbs was an organizer in Selma before the famous march: he worked on demonstrations around education and voter registration. Children's education continued to be a concern of Mr. Hobbs throughout the years.
Before long, the Halls' car rolled in with Mr. and Mrs. Hall and a few more of their grandchildren. Though Mr. Hall was just out of the hospital, he sat down, out in front of the garage with us to talk for a few minutes before going inside to rest. One thing led to another in our conversation, and ScottB mentioned something about visiting Mr. Hobbs since he was just down the road. Mr. Hall then told us the news: Cleophus Hobbs had died the Friday before last, on June 10. He died peacefully, in his sleep. The funeral had already come and gone.
ScottB had known Cleophus Hobbs well and worked closely with him and was devastated not to have heard about his death in time to attend the funeral. In trying figure out something constructive he could do with his grief, ScottB came up with an idea:
Next year, June 10, 2006 will be the first celebration of Cleophus Hobbs Day.
Johnny and Betty Hall have offered Campsite 1, which is still on their family land, for the event. Campsite 1 is one of the stops on the National Park Service Historic Trail, following the route of the Selma to Montgomery March, and it is on the same road Mr. Hobbs lived on. The event will be sponsored by the White Hall Village Educational Association, which was founded by ScottB and Linda.
The event on June 10, 2006 will be a celebration of Cleophus Hobbs and it will be an opportunity for people in the area to talk about the things they are currently dealing with and to strategize and organize around their concerns. The first Cleophus Hobbs Day will also be a fundraiser for a commemorative plaque to be placed in Campsite 1, in memory of Mr. Hobbs. ScottB is encouraging other SNCC members to have celebrations for others who have passed and to use these occasions similarly for recognizing deceased civil rights workers' contributions and for addressing the problems people are facing now.
Let there be a James Forman Day, an Ella Baker Day, a Fannie Lou Hamer Day, an Emmett Till Day, and so on.
ScottB points out that these events could also be used as fundraisers to do things like giving money to families who could not afford the funeral costs for their loved ones.
For more information, contact ScottB, scottbsmithjr[at]yahoo[dot]com or Linda Dehnad, lindadehnad[at]hotmail[dot]com.