One of the first
stories she heard about Selma from Irwin was that when her father was just
a boy picking cotton in Georgia, he’d watched his own father hung. He’d
thought all the white men had already had a drink of water, so he took a
dipper full for himself. But one white man said he hadn’t had a drink yet.
“Wha’d’ ya think you’re doin’, nigger?” Selma’s granddaddy was twenty-six
at the time, and he apologized for his mistake. But they hung him anyway,
in the middle of that sweltering Georgia day as Selma’s daddy, then a seven-
year-old boy, watched, his terror and incomprehension unimaginable. That
boy, Selma’s daddy, who’d watched his father hung, grew up to be a share-
cropper. Each Friday “the man” came by to tell him what he wanted done
the following week. During those visits Selma hid inside behind the curtain,
peeking out to watch her daddy with the man. He never took his eyes off
the ground while the man spoke to him. He never dared to look up.
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