JAMIE STURTEVANT Behind a screen door at the Cleveland Court in Montgomery Number 634 The View From Rosa Parks’s Old Apartment BY ANN GREEN Montgomery, Alabama ROSA PARKS, known as the mother of the civil rights movement, is a frail woman who looks more like a retired school teacher than a heroine of a movement that rocked a nation. On a fine Sunday afternoon in November, she returned to Montgomery \(she now lives in act of courage she performed here in 1955. A seamstress by occupation 34 years ago, she was headed home to a West Montgomery community called Cleveland Court on a city bus that December day when she was ordered to give up her seat to a white man. She said she was tired and so refused. Her arrest sparked a year-long bus boycott in Montgomery and thrust a young preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr. into the national limelight. At the dedication of a memorial to King and 39 men, women, and children who died in the struggle for civil rights, Rosa Parks spoke a few words to those who survived the movement or inherited what’s left of it. “The struggle never ends,” she said in a halting voice barely audible above the soothing sound of water splashing over the black granite of the memorial. But before returning to her seat among the dignitaries, she left her audience a message of hope. Justice will triumph over injustice and love over hate, she said. She received a standing ovation. As Rosa Parks spoke those words that autumn afternoon, the residents of Cleveland Court the ones who inherited what’s left of the civil rights movement along with Mrs. Parks’s old neighborhood where engaged in their own personal struggle. Cleveland Court is a collection of rows of brick, two-story housing units built in the 1940s. Once a middle-class community for blacks, it now has been lumped into a category of housing known simply as “a project,” a generic term describing a place where the poor, the elderly, and the sick engage in a daily struggle for a little human dignity. It’s a place where gunfire from drug dealers punctuates the night, where a Ann Green, the former city editor at The Alabama Journal, is the assistant city editor at The Greenville News in South Carolina. teenage girl was shot to death by another teenager on an outdoor basketball court in March, where one single mother has turned her apartment into a kind of dark fortress to try to keep the outside world from invading the lives of her young children. Cleveland Court is the home of the children of the civil rights movement people like Willie Mae Lofton, Debra Dumas and Larry Clayton. And it is the home of the elderly who watched the movement pass them by people like Mattie Glen and Rosa Smith. WILLIE MAE Lofton keeps her apartment tightly curtained and the doors bolted. It is a way she has found to live with some measure of safety in Cleveland Court. A stuffy, dark apartment is home to Mrs. Lofton, her four children, ranging in age from six to 18, and one infant grandchild. A food service worker at a local hospital, Mrs. Loftin earns $290 every two weeks and dreams of the day she can go back to school, get a better job, and take her family away from Cleveland Court. For a week in November, she’d been reading in the newspaper about the civil rights memorial and profiles of some of the people whose names would be etched in the stone. She’d cut out a story about Viola Liuzzo, a white homemaker who, at age 39 comfort of a life in Michigan in 1965 to volunteer as a driver in the Selma-toMontgomery march. Mrs. Liuzzo was shot to death in her Oldsmobile late one night near Selma. She was trying to speed away from members of the Ku Klux Klan. Mrs. Lofton removed the newspaper clipping from a paper lunch bag and smoothed it out on her kitchen table. Roaches ran up the wall and a gas water heater hissed in the corner. She’d saved the clipping for her children, she said. “I feel like I’ve been blessed,” Mrs. Lofton said. “I feel God’s love now when I think of the people who’ve died. It could have been me out there in one of those marches, getting 30 DECEMBER 29, 1989
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