As remembered by Claire Patrese
June 14, 2023
My heart was broken when Alice West's daughter Alice confirmed her mom's passing. Because I didn't get back to Selma to visit Mrs. West as I'd promised her years ago when I took Gloria Larry House down to see her — Mrs. West asked me to come see her again. Yes, I have called her over the years; yes, I'd literally planned to go the weeken in July 2021 when I got covid; yes, I spoke with her a few months before she died; planned to piggyback a trip to Lowndesboro with a drive to Selma, but I was sick that day, too. That's why yesterday, sitting in David Brewer's parking spot I promised Alice West Wooten that the world would know about her Mama, I meant that.
As remembered by Bruce
My first night in Selma, 1965, I slept on a pew in Brown Chapel. The next day, one of Alice & Lonzo West's dozen children (activists all) led me by the hand across the muddy yard to their apartment in the Carver Housing project. There I met Mrs. Alice West, the imdomitable matriarch of a Movement family and matron of an unofficial freedom house. Freedom fighters passed through, stayed overnight, and crashed on the floor. At times it seemed like a station on the underground railroad of 1865. For the next couple of weeks I slept atop their side-by-side washer-dryer in my old sleeping bag.
Mrs. West immediately sat me down in the kitchen at their well-used formica table, put a mug of coffee in my hand, and gently (but thoroughly) verbally confirmed the Movement credentials of this unknown (but welcome) white stranger. She then proceeded to brief me on the police occupation (state troopers, city cops, sheriffs deputies, posse, and game wardens) and warned me about local danger spots to carefully avoid like the block on Washington Street where the Silver Moon Cafe was located. It was a known Klan hangout and where the KKK thugs who murdered Rev. Reeb were lurking when he walked past.
Upstairs, the Bevels — Diane, Jim, and baby Sherilyn — were guesting along with Johnathan Daniels.
I have so many fond memories of sitting at the kitchen table with Mrs. West and her boistrous family: talking Movement, politics, religion, and race (though I did occasionally have to modestly disclaim any role as official spokesman for white folk). And I so well remember the night the living room was jam-packed as we all listened to LBJ's presidential address to the nation where he spoke the Movement slogan, "We Shall Overcome," and we knew then that a voting-rights victory was finally on the horizon.