A Road Trip to Selma in 1965

Ben Hyder, guest writer

After graduating from Orange County High School in Los Angeles, California, B.J. Underwood had no clue what he wanted to do with his life, but one thing he knew for sure was that he did not want to go to college. Being six foot five and only one-hundred and forty-five pounds all throughout high school, B.J. didn’t exactly fit in. And it didn’t help that his father made him tryout for the basketball and football team every year, and every year he didn’t make it.

“B.J, you’re going to go to college!” yelled his dad, “My father and his father before him went to college and gosh darn it you will too!”

“I don’t belong in college Dad, I want to travel and meet new people and see new things. Me and Johnny have been planning our road trip for months. We’re gonna travel around the country with the money we’ve saved working at the diner.”

“Well I don’t approve of it, so don’t expect to have a place to stay if you come back!”

* * *

The next day B.J. and his best friend John Hurst, who everyone called Johnny, headed out on their long-awaited road trip in Johnny’s brand new 1965 Ford Mustang.

“So Johnny, where are we headed?” asked B.J.

“Mmm . . . West I guess.”

“We spent all this time saving our money, but we never once thought about where we were going to go,” remarked B.J.

“I here Miami is nice this time of year.”

Johnny turned the radio onto their favorite band, The Beatles, and took off.

* * *

On their journey to Miami, B.J. and Johnny took a detour north to check out the Gateway Arch that was being built in St. Louis.


“B.J. Wake up, were here.”

When B.J. looked up he saw the 630-foot-tall partially built arch reaching up into the bright blue Missouri sky (Gateway).

“I never thought I would see anything so tall.” he commented.

“Hey Johnny, let’s get out and get a picture in front of it.”

While Johnny was filming B.J. with his brand new Sony CVC-2000, a scrawny middle-aged African-American man walked up to them.

“If you want I can take a picture of the both of you in front of the arch,” he offered.

“That would be kind of you, Sir.” replied Johnny.

The man took their picture, and as he was about to hand the camera back to Johnny an overweight older gentleman who looked like he was on his way home from Sunday school walked by.

“You shouldn’t trust a Negro with your camera; he might just run away with it and you’ll never see it again,” the man said.

“Uh, excuse me, sir?” replied B.J.

“You boys aren’t from around here, are you? You see around here we don’t congregate with people like him.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Sir. This man just offered to take a picture of me and my friend. He never did anything wrong and I don’t see why you would treat him like that.”

“You boys better watch yourselves, ’cause if I see you being friendly with one of his kind again . . . Well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be pretty.” The man spit on B.J.’s shoes and knocked over the black man as he walked away.

“What was that all about?” asked Johnny.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause the two of you any trouble.”

“That wasn’t your fault. You were just taking a picture for us! What was that guy’s problem? We have to do something!” B.J. blurted out as Johnny helped the man up off of the ground.

“You guys really don’t know what that was about?”

“Well I guess we have heard rumors about how blacks are treated in the South, but we never really experienced it before,” replied Johnny.

“Yeah, well, the rumors are true. My name is Michael Moore.”

“I’m Johnny, and this is my friend B.J.”

“So, Johnny and B.J., what are you doin’ in St.Louis, since you obviously aren’t from around here?”

“We’re on a road trip to Miami and we decided we would take a detour up here to see the Gateway Arch,” replied Johnny.

“Miami you say?”

“Yes, Sir,” said B.J.

“I happen to be goin’ that direction; would you fellas mind givin’ me a ride?”

“Oh, not at all! As long as your okay with listening to the UCLA basketball game. They seem to be on the way to another championship this year,” said Johnny.

“That’s fine with me.”

“Where are you headed,” asked B.J.

Selma, Alabama.”

* * *

When they got to Selma about nine hours later, it was late at night, so they decided to find a hotel room. They pulled up to an inn and went inside.

“Hi Ma’am, can we get a room?” asked B.J.

“We don’t accept Negroes here.”

“Why not? He never did anything.”

“We don’t accept his kind here; now you better leave before I call the police.”

“B.J., it’s fine. I’ve got a friend that lives not too far from here. I’m sure he’ll let us spend the night with him.”

So they spent the night at the house of Michael’s friend, Jimmy.

The next morning Michael was gone, and B.J. and Johnny were eating breakfast with Jimmy and his wife and two kids when they noticed something.

“What’s with all the people gathering out on the streets?” asked B.J.

“They are protesting because the police won’t let them go down to the courthouse and vote . . . I’d be out there with them, but I have a family to take care of and many of the protesters get beaten and arrested.”

“Is that where Michael went?” questioned Johnny.

“It is.”

When they finished eating B.J. and Johnny went to find Michael. They found him talking to some guys about ten minutes from the house.

“Hey Michael. What are you doing?” asked B.J.

“You guys shouldn’t be here; we’re about to march to Montgomery. It’s too dangerous for you.”

“Jimmy told us that you were protesting because the city won’t let black people vote and we want to help,” replied Johnny.

“Are you sure? Because I’m not gonna lie it could get dangerous; they have tear gas and clubs and people have already gotten hurt.”

The two boys looked at each other to confirm they were both thinking the same thing and B.J. said, “Yeah, we’re sure.”

A few minutes later the group started marching, but they were stopped when they got to a bridge.

“Are those policemen up there?” asked Johnny.

“State Troopers,” replied a man standing next to him.

“It’s not too late for you guys to turn around; this isn’t your fight.”

“No, we’re in this together,” said B.J.

They heard someone in their group talking to one of the State Troopers, but they couldn’t quite make out everything they were saying. All they heard was, “You have two minutes to turn around and go back to your church”(Aretha). About a minute later they heard screams and saw State Troopers coming toward them.

“What’s going on?” said Johnny.

“Just stay low. They’ve started attacking people in the front!” yelled Michael.

A tear gas grenade went off in front of B.J. and he couldn’t see anything. He tried calling out for Johnny, but he couldn’t stop coughing. Then a man in a gas mask started beating him until he fell on the ground knocked out.

Ten minutes later B.J. woke up, he tried to push himself up, but he fell back down when his left arm shrieked with pain.

“Johnny . . . Johnny!” he called out.

Johnny came running over from across the bridge – somehow unscathed except for a swollen nose.

“Where’s Michael? Is he okay?”

Johnny helped him up.

“I don’t think so, he’s still unconscious and his breathing doesn’t sound good. We need to get him to a hospital.”

“Aren’t there any ambulances?”

“No. Someone said they weren’t letting any near the bridge. We’re going to have to carry him back to town.”

B.J. and Johnny carried him on their shoulders all the way to the nearest hospital where there were already almost fifty people injured from the march.

“Hey, we need some help here!” yelled Johnny as soon as they walked into the door.

As they waited to here from the doctors about Michael; B.J. was treated for a concussion and a broken left arm, and Johnny for a broken nose.

“Are you two the ones who brought in one Michael Moore?” asked the doctor as he looked down at his clipboard.

“Yes we are,” answered B.J.

“You may see him now if you would like.”

When they walked in they were shocked. Michael had a cast on his right leg and bandages on his head and chest.

“You . . . guys . . . are . . . still . . . here?” he said between coughs.

“We wouldn’t just abandon you.” said B.J.

“It’s alright . . . they called my family . . . back in St. Louis . . . my wife and mother . . . are coming down. You guys . . . should go home . . . and see your families.”

“We will . . . but not yet.”

The boys left the hospital, knowing that Michael was going to be okay, and started driving for Atlanta.

“Johnny, I think I finally know what I want to do!”

“And what is that?”

“I want to help Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Works Cited

Aretha, David. Selma and the Voting Rights Act. Morgan Reynolds Publishing. 2008.

“Gateway Arch completed.” www.history.com. Web. April 06, 2017.


Murphy, Bruce Allen. “Selma marches.” World Book Advanced. World Book, 2017. Web. 28                  Mar. 2017.

“Selma, Half A Century Later.”Weekend All Things Considered, 7 Mar. 2015. Literature                            Resource Center. Web.

“Selma to Montgomery March (1965).” kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu. Web. April 06, 2017.