Local News

Having lived through civil rights era, 103-year-old wants to see 'Selma'

Posted January 8, 2015 6:46 p.m. EST

— Pauline Holden Latta lived through the civil rights era, so for her 103rd birthday on Friday, she wants to see how Hollywood handles the subject by attending the opening night of "Selma" at a Raleigh movie theater.

The film recounts the events surrounding the March 1965 protest marches from Selma, Ala., to the state capitol in Montgomery over voting rights. The first march ended with state troopers attacking activists on the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River in what became known as "Bloody Sunday." Martin Luther King Jr. led a second march two days later but turned his followers around at the bridge. A third march occurred about two weeks later, when federal authorities protected the marchers so they could complete the journey.

Latta still remembers her grandparents discussing their days as slaves, and she says she can't believe the U.S. has had an African-American president for the past six years.

"I never did think that I'd see the things like they are now," she said Thursday.

By the time King and other civil rights leaders were crusading across the South, Latta was in her 50s. Age, she says, made her wary about marching with them – she watched the news and knew the dangers of fighting segregation.

Still, she went to hear King during several appearances in Raleigh and came away impressed.

"He was a brave character to carry on like he did. I still admire him," she said. "He wanted to shake hands with everybody he could."

Latta recalls daily demonstrations on Wilmington Street and sit-ins at a Woolworth's lunch counter downtown.

"I saw a lot of marching because I lived across the street from Shaw University," she said.

The neighborhood on South Blount Street where she grew up was integrated.

"Those white children in our neighborhood, they played with us and didn't think anything of it," said Latta's 90-year-old sister, Mary Poole.

As they grew older, however, the sisters saw the world wasn't so innocent.

"At that time, when the civil rights first started, I didn’t think it was going to last long," Latta said. "It really takes death sometimes to change things."

Latta said she doesn't have a specific reason for wanting to see "Selma" other than enjoying a night out and a look back.

"We've come a long way but have a lot of improvement to go," she said. "We're not where we're supposed to be, as yet."