Near the end of August in 1963, three residents from Orange climbed on a bus headed to Washington D.C. It wasn’t just any bus trip. It was a trip into history. They were participants in the civil rights March on Washington lead by Martin Luther King Jr. on Aug. 28. It was the day King gave his memorable “I have a dream” speech. This year marks the 50th anniversary of that historical event.

“I’m the only one left from Orange,” said former Orange mayor Essie Bellfield.

James Zay Roberts and Velma Jetter where the other two people from Orange on that bus.

The bus was filled with about 40 people said Bellfield. The other passengers were from Pt. Arthur and Beaumont.

“We had about seven whites and a priest with us,” she said.

“When you see those pictures of that crowd, we were in that crowd,” said Bellfield. “I was there so the man could speak.” She said she was sitting near Lincoln’s feet.

“There were a lot of people in that march; a lot of people.”Martin Luther King Jr. crowd

She said she was there for voters rights and civil rights.

“Things were happening and are still happening in the south. Birmingham was horrible at that time. People could not go out and vote.”

She spoke of three men buried in shallow graves, killed because they were trying to register people to vote in Mississippi. She was referring to James Chaney who was black and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were white. The were killed in 1964.

Bellfield said a white woman named Viola Gregg Liuzzo came down from Pontiac, Mich. to register people to vote. “When she left the voting area to go to the store to pick up a jar of mustard for the hot dogs, they killed her. And every time I go to vote, I put my number down and pull the lever, I say, ‘Viola, I’m here,’ because she didn’t have to leave her family to come to register us to vote. It upsets me right now, when we as black people, do not get out and vote. I don’t care how you vote, just get out and vote, because you didn’t have that opportunity [then].”

“James Roberts had the dogs put on him, because he wanted to vote,” she said.

“Right now we have people in this town and around that do not get out to vote and that really hurt me.”

She spoke of George Wallace blocking the doorway so black students couldn’t enter in the University of Alabama in June 1963. “That hurt me. Now, we have schools that blacks cannot go to and do better and that hurts me now.”

She said right now there are people in her city that do not vote.

“I’m not going to tell you how to vote unless your voting for me.”

She reminds people that at one time they had to pay to vote in Orange when there was a poll tax.

Bellfield was the first and only female mayor of Orange. She led of the city from 1997 to 2000. Currently she serves on the Orange city council.

The council woman said she will continue to play a part in politics as long as she can remember the people that fought the fight to get her the right to vote.

“As long as my mind is good, as long as I can remember what these people died for. What Medgar Evers died for. What Martin Luther King died for. What Viola Liuzzo died for. I’m going to keep on as long as I can remember them. I will vote if you push me in a wheelchair and take my hand and make me vote, I’ll vote.”

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.