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Victorian reflects on her time working with MLK

By Gheni_Platenburg
Jan. 16, 2011 at 11 p.m.
Updated Feb. 3, 2011 at 8:04 p.m.

Mary E. Hackett speaks about her and her husband Marion A. Hackett's involvement with the NAACP during the civil rights movement at her home Friday. She has been a member for 73 years, since she was 5-years-old. She said Martin Luther King Jr. and the NAACP had the same goals but they tried to achieve them through different means.  "We worked with the NAACP because we wanted to achieve equal rights within the frame of the law, not through civil disobedience," she said.

Although it has been 45 years, Victoria resident Mary Hackett remembers March 9, 1965, as if it were yesterday.

Though old age and medications for her ailments cloud her 78-year-old memory from time to time, Hackett said that is one day she will never forget.

It was the day she participated in the second march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., to protest white resistance to black voter registration.

The march was led by Martin Luther King Jr..

"You always heard about the marches, but actually being a part of it was scary," Hackett said.

Sitting back in her chair, Hackett recalled what led her to the march that helped to shift public opinion about the Civil Rights movement.

Hackett, born in Detroit, said family and school impressed a sense of justice upon her from an early age.

She became a member of the youth chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the age of 5.

"We were taught that service is the price you pay for the space you occupy," said Hackett. "We believed that once you get through the hole, then you reach back and pull your sisters and brothers through the hole, too."

After receiving degrees from the University of Detroit and the University of Michigan, the first of which she earned at the age of 17, Hackett moved to San Antonio with her first husband.

It was then that she not only got her first dose of Southern hospitality, but also her first dose of racism and segregation Southern style.

After moving to Victoria in 1962, Hackett realized blacks there were experiencing problems as well.

"What classifies as hate crimes now was everyday crime back then," said Hackett. "We needed better jobs. People couldn't even feed their children, but they knew not to apply for the jobs because they knew they wouldn't be considered."

Hackett soon transferred her NAACP membership to the now-defunct Victoria chapter of the NAACP in hopes of combating many of those problems, which included a lack of non-professional jobs, a lack of good education and violence against blacks.

She recalled secretly meeting with fellow chapter members at Mt. Salem Baptist Church and local barbershops because many of the members were scared their membership would provoke retaliation from white Victorians.

"A lot of black women worked as maids, and they would tell me that while they were in the room, their boss would be sitting there drinking coffee and reading the newspaper" and talking about current event, Hackett said. She said a lot of blacks were scared after hearing their white bosses talk about what would happen if the local blacks did the same as those in Georgia.

Hackett recalled that Josie Rogers, who served as the NAACP record-keeper before her death, was threatened with arrest if she did not hand over the membership list.

A lack of unity among blacks also posed problems in bettering the local situation, said Hackett.

"Some felt you were good enough to have children for them to teach in school, but you weren't good enough for them to sit next to in church because you were uneducated," said Hackett. "A lot of people just wanted to be the white man's pet. They wanted more from Mr. Charlie."

In the midst of the civil unrest, Hackett said the Victoria chapter of the NAACP received word from King's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery that a second march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma into Montgomery was being organized to further protest white resistance to black voter registration.

"Martin kept asking for help from Texas because he wasn't getting any," said Hackett. "We decided to go out of curiosity."

Shortly after receiving the march notice, Hackett said, she, her second husband Marion, who served as the secretary of the local NAACP chapter, and John Huff Jr., who served as the president of the chapter, all headed toward Selma for a code-of-conduct training session.

"We were taught that when we got to the end of the bridge, that we should expect to be beaten," said Hackett.

A few months later, Hackett, her husband and Hough made the journey to the actual march.

"(Whites) knew there was going to be another march, but it never occurred to them that people would be coming from California, Washington state and Texas," said Hackett.

Coming from Texas proved to be a challenge in itself, given the large amount of racial violence toward blacks traveling through Beaumont into Louisiana.

"We were singing freedom songs, and we had to eat packed lunches because we couldn't stop and eat just anywhere. The law didn't allow it," Hackett said.

Hackett recalled the morning of the march, things were somber.

"Martin preached that morning, but you could tell he was scared. So was Coretta (King). He was well-dressed and well-prepared because he had not long before gotten out of jail."

She continued, "They hyped us up with a bunch of Christian hymns."

Although they had decided to go to Selma for the march, the Victoria NAACP members opted not to march.

Instead, they served as support staff for the nearly 2,500 people who did march, keeping track of those marching in case anyone was injured or arrested.

"The march was an act of civil disobedience. It was Martin's thing, not the NAACP's thing," said Hackett. "We worked with the NAACP because we wanted to achieve equal rights within the frame of the law but not through civil disobedience."

Not long after the march began, Hackett said, they heard over the police scanners that pandemonium had broken out before the marchers returned back to the church headquarters.

Hackett and the rest of her group soon returned to Victoria.

She later went on fight injustice as an active member of the local NAACP until 1998.

"Selma affected me in such a way to never give up the fight for freedom and justice and all for today and tomorrow and for all times," said Hackett. "If you don't like what's going on, then affect change."

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