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Residents reflect on 50 years of civil rights efforts

Published 6:16pm Friday, September 13, 2013

Fifty years ago, Chilton County was sandwiched between two cities known for some of the most violent events that unfolded in Alabama during America’s Civil Rights Movement.

To the north, Birmingham gained national attention for the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 that claimed the lives of four children, as well as the incident involving fire hoses and police dogs released on civil rights demonstrators at Kelly Ingram Park.

Selma, Chilton’s neighbor to the southwest, became the site of “Bloody Sunday,” an attack on hundreds of civil rights demonstrators marching across Edmund Pettus Bridge to the state capital.

Although no violent events occurred in Chilton County, residents recall the racial tensions that permeated the entire country 50 years ago, their home county included.

Bobby Agee and Jessie Binion were teenagers when the Civil Rights Movement began to take root.

“It goes without saying that those movements changed the world,” Agee said. “A lot of brave people had to give their lives to secure the rights for all Americans—not just black Americans, but for all Americans to be treated equally.”

Both Agee and Binion attended Chilton County Training School, an all-black high school in Clanton, in the 1960s.

Agee, who was born and raised in the New Convert community in Maplesville, graduated in 1968 in the next to last class to finish before the school was closed and its students integrated into formerly all-white schools throughout the county.

Despite racial violence that rocked nearby cities, Agee said he was never the victim of violent acts.

“I can’t recall anything bad happening to me,” Agee said. “My mother kind of sheltered me, kept me close. It was common for people to use the N-word. They thought nothing of it.”

Binion, almost 70, said she remembers harsh language and occasional threats from Ku Klux Klan members.

“They would intimidate us,” she said. “We were afraid because we didn’t know what those people were going to do.”

Binion said she also remembers having to use separate facilities and sit in certain places on public buses because of segregation laws.

“That may be one of the reasons I don’t like buses, because of that era,” Binion said.

But aside from unequal treatment and derogatory names, Binion said she and her family were never physically harmed.

“It hasn’t been bad for me and my family,” Binion said. “It’s only bad if you make it bad. You can’t wallow in self pity for the rest of your life, you’ve got to get up and keep going.”

Binion has served on the West End Neighborhood Watch since 1988 and cited positive interactions with local law enforcement and community members.

“We’ve had a good relationship with the police officers in all these things, and we thank them for that, too,” Binion said.

Binion commended Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sacrificing his life in his efforts to abolish segregation and secure equal rights for all people.

“We should remember Dr. King, first of all, for all the hard work he put into this,” Binion said. “He brought many nations together with non-violence.”

Both Agee and Binion expressed a sense of positivity regarding race relations in Chilton County today.

“Our county has changed tremendously,” Agee said. “I think there’s still room for growth between the races, but as a whole, I think there is a good working relationship between all the races here in Chilton County, and we’re blessed to live in an area like this.”

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