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One family's long road to the Obama inauguration

Frankie Hutchins, whose grandmother was born into slavery, saw her mother fight for voting rights. She attended a white school. Now her kids will see the first black president.

By Carmen K. SissonCorrespondent / January 19, 2009

Civil rights pedigree: Brittney Sanders (from left), the Rev. Frankie Hutchins, Brenton Sanders, Tamira Williams, and Talisa Bolden stand in front of a charter bus on their way to Washington.

Carmen K. Sisson

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En Route to Washington

Part 2 of a three-part series on a school's journey from Selma, Ala. Part 1, Knox Elementary goes to Washington for the inauguration, ran on Thursday.

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The night Frankie’s mother didn’t come home, she suddenly knew how far her mom would go to bring about change. It was 1962 in Selma, Ala., and she was only 9. The idea of change enthralled her, even as a youngster. But at the moment she just wanted supper. And her mother had gone out to get a few last-minute items.

Frankie stared across the dining-room table at her father, her eyes asking an unspoken question – where is she? Then the phone rang. Her mother wasn’t at the grocery store. She was in jail. Ruby Walker had been arrested on the steps of the local courthouse with several others who were demanding equal voting rights for black citizens. At the time, more than half of Selma’s residents were black, but, given the phalanx of institutional and racial barriers, only 1 percent were registered to vote.

The protesters wanted to change that, to stop the intimidation and harassment, and eradicate the division between the races, which still left them shuffling through the back doors of doctor’s offices and restaurants.

It’s an indelible memory that Frankie, now the Rev. Frankie Hutchins, will be carrying today as she stands on the National Mall in Washington with more than a million others to watch the inauguration of the first African-American president.

As one of the adults traveling this week from Selma to the nation’s capital with a group from Knox Elementary School, she brings different emotions and motivations than the idealistic young students, all clad in their new winter clothing and visions of a race-free America. For her and many of the other adults, this is a spiritual journey, both an intensely personal moment and a time to celebrate what they and their forebears suffered and accomplished, as well as to see the opportunities facing a new generation.

Many had grandparents who were born into slavery. They themselves experienced the lash of racism and the Klan. Now they will be watching their children see a black man take the oath of the highest office in the land. “I couldn’t miss this event,” says Hutchins. “I’ve got to do this.”

•••

Hutchins is something of a pioneer herself. She is the first black female pastor of the Clinton Chapel AME Zion Church in Selma, where she has served for three years.
The trip for her will be a family affair. Along with her two daughters, Talisa Bolden and Tamira Williams, she’ll be watching her grandchildren, Brenton and Brittney, witness a moment even her mother had never anticipated.

“I remember asking as a young girl why this was so important,” Hutchins says of her mother’s protests. “And she said, ‘Well, change needs to come so you will have a better life.’ ”

Ruby Walker’s mother was born into slavery, and she worked in Alabama’s cotton fields. She didn’t want her daughter to grow up believing this world of separation was to be borne without complaint. No longer would they bow their heads in submission. They were ready to fight.

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