Debbie Montgomery was a pioneer of the local civil rights movement, getting elected to the National Board of Directors for the NAACP when she was just 17 years old. Not long after that, she took park in one of the movement's defining moments, and now, she's getting ready to make a return trip to commemorate that march.
"The problems in Selma weren't ended by the march," Montgomery said. "I just thought I need to be there to commemorate this historic march because of what it did for the people of Alabama and for the people of this country."
It was March of 1965 when Montgomery, a freshman at the University of Minnesota, and 38 others from the U traveled to take part in the legendary march for voting rights with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Montgomery had already been involved with the civil rights movement, but her experiences couldn't prepare her for what she saw during that fateful trip.
"To see the hatred and the anger that was coming out of their mouths and on their faces, it was just -- we hadn't seen any of that being up here in Minnesota," Montgomery said.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the march across the Pettis Bridge, Montgomery will be one of 68 Minnesotans heading to Selma later this week. The trip was organized by the Unity Church – Unitarian in St. Paul, a denomination that sent hundreds of clergy members to help Dr. King all those years ago.
After Selma, Montgomery became the first female police officer in St. Paul and the first African American woman elected to the St. Paul City Council. Of course, racial relations have improved, but Montgomery maintains America still has a long way to go.
"It's important for all of us to recall the past and understand the impact it had on our country and what can be done to make the future better," she said.