Daily News Journal, January 17, 2015, Scott Broden
SMYRNA – Martin Luther King Jr. completed his march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to speak with protection from National Army Guardsmen such as Dub Raborn.
“That was the most intense time,” Raborn recalled. “There were a lot of spectators, and some of them weren’t supporters of Martin Luther King Jr.”
After watching the film, “Selma,” before the national Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday arrived today, Raborn has spent recent time reflecting on what happened in his guardsmen days when black citizens were seeking to live in an integrated country.
Raborn grew up in southern Mississippi when schools, restaurants and many other public places segregated the races. Black residents, for example, had to sit in the balcony at the movie theater while white residents were downstairs.
“At the time, I didn’t think about it,” said the 75-year-old Smyrna man, who in 1973 founded Raborn Insurance Agency that operates on the town’s South Lowry Street. “That’s just the way it was. I grew up in the country, and you played with blacks. As I got older, my ideas changed. I started thinking and reading.”
Years later, Raborn continues to be a man living in the country. His brick home on 20 acres is surrounded by woods off Jefferson Pike. The home built by friend Ernie Johns, the retired county historian, provides a quiet place to ponder about life in the South.
A 1957 graduate of McComb High School who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1961 from Mississippi State University, Raborn said he learned one of his former peers was paying “thugs” to beat up black Freedom Riders and reporters who were coming down to his then hometown to advocate for integration, such as eating at whites only restaurants.
“It was in the national news,” Raborn recalled. “It was a bad period of our history.”
After college, Raborn became a social worker at Bryce Hospital for patients with mental illnesses in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He also served in the National Guard in 1963 when Gov. George Wallace stood at the doorway of the University of Alabama, blocking two black students from attending class. Wallace had pledged “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” during his inauguration speech, but he didn’t get the final say on the issue.
“President (John) Kennedy federalized the entire Alabama National Guard,” Raborn recalled.
The guardsmen stayed in barracks toward the back of the campus for about four to five months without incident.
“Nobody could see us,” Raborn said.
When word got out that the president was about to end the tour of duty and the extra pay for the guardsmen on campus, some of them joked how they’d have to stir up something, Raborn said. As it turns out, a couple of guardsmen who were drunk set off an explosion near a dorm where one of the black students was staying.
“They were trying to extend our tour of duty,” Raborn said.
Although the only incident of violence came from two drunk guardsmen at the university, that was not the case in Selma when King sought to start a march there.
“Clashes happened before we were federalized,” said Raborn, noting that only local authorities were involved in Selma at the start. “They were trying to stop the blacks from marching. That’s where people got killed.”
When people throughout the country witnessed on news reports about deputies using billy clubs to beat the marchers, many of them traveled to Selma to join the march. Raborn recalled how a fellow coworker at Bryce Hospital, a white female social worker who was married to a University of Alabama professor, traveled to Selma to also march.
To protect the marchers, President Lyndon Johnson called up the Alabama National Guard, so Raborn joined his fellow guardsmen in heading to Selma to provide security.
King led the marchers right on by the guardsmen, but Raborn didn’t get much of a glimpse of the civil rights leader because of threats all around.
“I was standing on the side of the road,” Raborn said. “The way was lined on both sides with people mouthing off. They had hecklers along the route.”
Raborn was able to see King reach Montgomery to speak, but the guardsmen had to focus their attention on the spectators.
“We were lined up almost shoulder to shoulder and looking at the crowd,” Raborn said. “Not that we did anything heroic, but it was a big part of history. It accomplished what the president intended to accomplish.”
Since then, Raborn and his wife, Margie, have raised their three sons, Derek, Greg and Baker, in an integrated community where the children graduated from Smyrna High School. The family came to the town in 1970 when Dub Raborn was working for Travelers Insurance a few years before he opened his own agency.
Raborn’s son Baker treasures what he and his brothers have learned from their father.
“What I have learned from him is it doesn’t matter what kind of race, religion or social status you are,” Baker said. “It matters what kind of person you are. Looking back on growing up, he literally raised us color blind, and that’s one thing I appreciate. He’s always been very strong on that. There’s not anybody that I have ever met that I respect more than him. He’s always been a very strong upstanding person that believed in values.”
The days of King being an influential civil rights leader came to an end in 1968 when he was assassinated in Memphis.
Dub Raborn, who also earned a master’s degree from Florida State University, came to see the segregated life of his childhood in a different way following a civil rights movement led by King.
“Well, I feel like that somebody — for things to change, and they needed to change — somebody had to take the lead,” Raborn said. “Martin Luther King Jr. was the one who eventually became the leader. He was the moving force behind the changes being made. I admire the guy for what he did. I’m not saying the guy was perfect, but he stepped up.”
Contact Scott Broden at 615-278-5158 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottBroden.