McALESTER — Fifty years ago this month President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 — and two McAlester residents were among those who helped push the civil rights movement along.
The late Rev. Wade Watts and former U.S. House Speaker Carl Albert were both involved in helping advance civil rights —and both at personal risk.
Watts marched in Selma, Ala., alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in March 1965. The three marches are credited with helping achieve passage of Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Albert, the McAlester Democrat who served as House majority leader in 1964, helped line up southern Democratic House votes that were needed at the time to ensure the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Both men now have streets in McAlester named in their honor — Carl Albert Parkway and Wade Watts Avenue.
And the two men are honored in another way — Albert by a statue in Chadick Park as well as by a bust outside the Carl Albert Federal Building.
A memorial to Watts is in place at the bottom of Wade Watts Avenue, close to the U.S. Highway 69 Bypass.
Although there were threats of violence —and plenty of actual violence at the time — Watts did not let that deter him from participating in the civil rights movement.
Before embarking on the Selma-to-Montgomery march with King and others in March 1965, Watts first learned the “protective crouch” — how to crouch and protect his head with his hands and press his knees against his chest to protect his abdomen, to be ready if beatings were administered by Alabama police or thugs opposed to the movement.
Inspired by Mahatma Ghandi, who used non-violent protests to free India from rule by the British, King’s philosophy called for non-violent protests, so he encouraged those with him in the movement not to fight back when attacked.