What would King think?

Phillip M. Jones | 1/9/2013, 5 p.m.

"I'm starting in 1963, April," said Marrisett as he first described his duties for SCLC, which he joined after 27 years of what he calls a wasted life before the Civil Rights Movement. "We became the first four (of) SCLC's national paid field staff. We weren't called foot soldiers yet. We were paid $25 every two weeks, which was more than enough for what we were doing. We were in New Orleans, when the church (the infamous 16th Street Church where four little girls were killed) was bombed.

"We were down there getting ready to go over into Texas to get people to register to vote to help Barbara Jordan run for Congress. We had to come back and be served an injunction."

"I grew up brainwashed that segregation and discrimination were the order of the times," Marrisett said, describing his total obliviousness to the freedoms that he never knew existed or were possible in his time.

"I grew up in Birmingham, Ala., in the '40s and the '50s, in one of the most segregated cities in the South at the time. I use that term because we had the water fountains, the rest rooms, the lunch rooms, everything was Black and White and signs said 'White' and the other signs said 'colored.'

"Everything was segregated, and we had all of the Jim Crow laws that were on the books more than anywhere in the world.

"I was a product of all kinds of misconceptions. I just didn't know any better," said Marrisett . "I thought that's the way it was. My mother died when I was 18-months-old. My grandmom raised me until I was 14, when she passed, and then my daddy and I had to scuffle as best we could to keep our heads above water. So I grew up poor, poor, poor, poor and poor.

"See in the '40s and the '50s, I had no choice, because I just didn't know any better. See, I was a youngster. In 1942 is when I started school at 6 years old. Bull Conner ruled at that time.

"I'm speaking for lots and lots of other Black folk at that time who was under that spell of Jim Crow and didn't know how to get out from under it," he said. "Birmingham on a Sunday morning, between [the hours of] 11 and 2 was really the most segregated city in America, probably even the world. Everything here was segregated.

"There were lots of college kids, Black kids, that went to predominately Black colleges that got involved, you know SNCC and CORE and all of those, but those was college kids. I was just a little poor kid out of the alleys in the back alleyways of Birmingham, running around believing that this was it, until 1963. I knew things was wrong, but I didn't understand how to get involved or didn't know to get involved, because I thought that what was going on at the time was it."

". . . time rolled on, I began to realize and to think, as they say, outside of the box, and I said that I know things are not going right and I decided to get involved," he said. "My beginnings were right there at the 16th Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park," Marrisett continued, "seeing the police officers sick a canine on a little girl in Kelly Ingram Park down there in 1963, near the church they bombed.