SELMA, Ala. (WIAT) — Hattie Howard-Collins remembers it all.

Nearly 60 years later, she can still remember the mass meetings at the churches in her hometown of Marion, Alabama. She still remembers the police dogs. She remembers Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Above all, she remembers the deep love of her parents. She could never forget.

Howard-Collins said that at first, “the movement” hadn’t made it to Marion. But when it did, she said, “we all had to go.”

At 75, she is still going. This year, on the first Sunday in March, Collins stood in the sun for hours, standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of others in her straw hat – two pink flowers fastened to the top – waiting to see the first Black, first woman Vice President of the United States speak at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

It was a moment Hattie Howard-Collins never thought she’d see.

Always stay together

Hattie Howard-Collins was the fifth of 12 children, born to James and Marie Howard, a Black couple who owned and ran a 103-acre farm on the outskirts of Marion.

“He was a farmer,” she said of her father. “He would have cotton and everything. Anything that went in the ground that would come up, he had it.”

Her parents were sweet people and early on, they taught their children important lessons in life. They emphasized the importance of getting an education. They sent Hattie to Lincoln, the same high school Coretta Scott King had attended just a few years before. They taught their children – seven girls and five boys – “how to respect others and how you get respect” and focused on “how to be great citizens.”

“They just wanted us to learn and to know what is right and what is wrong,” Howard-Collins said.

Her parents believed that citizenship came with responsibility, too – one they urged their children to help fulfill. Throughout the early 1960s, the Howards brought their older children to mass meetings and demonstrations in Marion and beyond as the fight for civil rights reached a pivotal turning point.

And Hattie Howard-Collins was there for it all.

At Zion in Marion, she was told what to do and what not to do in the event of an attack. Attendees at mass meetings, including children like Hattie, were prepared for marches and sit-ins by activists trained in nonviolent protest.

“Always stay together,” she was told. “And we did that.”

As a child, Howard-Collins didn’t fully understand the significance of everything that was happening around her, but she began asking questions that would shape how she views the world today.

“[Dr. King] would be in jail, and it didn’t make sense,” she said. “What did he do to deserve this?”

Indignities large and small revealed themselves to Howard-Collins as she grew older, slowly learning the reason behind her parents’ insistence on fighting against injustice. When she was 9 or 10, she sat with other kids in the segregated audience of the local “picture show” in Marion, banished to the balcony by the sting of a “whites only” sign.

“You don’t belong here,” she said. “That’s what you’d get from it.”

The children fought back against the slight in whatever way they could.

“We didn’t know any better. We would get pop or whatever, and when we finished drinking, we would throw the trash down on them,” she said. “We would let them know – why do we have to be up here and you down there?”

Howard-Collins learned from her mother, though, that restraint, too, was a powerful tactic. She said that when King came to town, some folks would bad mouth the civil rights leader.

“But my mother wouldn’t say anything,” she said. “She would just act like she didn’t hear.”

Slowly, Howard-Collins came into her own, learning the lessons her parents had begun teaching her – lessons she sometimes wished she didn’t have to master.

“We didn’t understand why things were like this,” she said. “Everybody seemed nice. But when night came, it was a different story.”

When night came

Howard-Collins knows the cost of advancing civil rights in the United States. She and her family have paid it.

Not long after graduating from Lincoln High and leaving to go to school in Chicago, her sister, Janet Howard-Moore, stared down Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The date was March 7, 1965 — “Bloody Sunday.”

James Howard had loaded Janet and two of her siblings into his pickup truck and dropped them off at Brown Chapel. Just like the many mass meetings the family had attended in Marion, preparations began for what would lie ahead.

“When we got in the church, they prepped us and told us what we were to do and how to do it and what might happen and what could happen,” Howard-Moore recalled.

“They were prepared for the worst,” Vice President Kamala Harris would say 57 years later. “And on this bridge on that day the worst found them.”

The foot soldiers – Janet Howard among their ranks – left Brown Chapel and walked the three-quarters of a mile to the bridge.

“I looked up, and I saw the top of the bridge,” she recalls. “At the very top of the bridge, there were men on horseback.”

She had never seen police prepared for battle like this. The Alabama State Troopers gripped billy clubs in their hands and wore hard hats on their heads. Gas masks covered some of their faces.

“As we were walking, we heard somebody on a bullhorn telling us to turn around and go back,” Howard-Moore said.

“We got on our knees to pray as they had told us,” she said. “I don’t know how much praying was going on, but we got on our knees.”

Someone on horseback, she remembered, burst open a can of tear gas.

“It was billowing in the air – smoke like you’ve never seen before,” she said. “I remember trying to cover my nose and eyes.”

She remembered the sound of the metal horseshoes striking the pavement.

“The sound on the concrete was just immense. The smoke got so thick, and they had whips in their hands, and billy clubs,” she said. “They started hitting and beating, and with the smoke, everyone started running backwards.”

The rest, for Janet Howard-Moore, is a blur. Some said she had been stepped on by a horse, but she’s not sure.

“But somehow I got trampled and I was out, and I woke up in Good Samaritan Hospital,” she said.

Give something back

The lessons that Hattie and Janet learned early in their lives paid off.

Of James and Marie’s 12 children, 10 would attend college. Hattie Howard-Collins had wanted to go to University in Alabama, but her mother wouldn’t have it. Like many Black families at the time, Marie Howard pushed for her daughter to move north. She encouraged her daughter to go to Chicago to pursue her education, and that’s what Howard-Collins did.

She first attended Olive-Harvey, one of Chicago’s city colleges, before transferring to DePaul University to continue her studies in nursing. Soon, she was fulfilling dreams she’d had since she was three years old.

“I always wanted to be a nurse to take care of people,” she said. “I enjoy helping people – taking care of people and doing things for them – making them feel better.”

Howard-Collins began working in the cancer unit at Mount Sinai Hospital, where she was quickly recognized for her leadership. After only a couple of weeks on the job, her supervisor left due to a family emergency, leaving her in charge.

“I’m like… I don’t know what to do,” she said.

“You can do it,” Howard-Collins recalled her supervisor telling her. “You’re very bright.”

Her supervisor was right.

It wasn’t long before Howard-Collins was promoted to become the assistant manager of the alcohol and drug unit at the hospital. She’d continue her education, earning two master’s degrees from St. Xavier College.

Eventually, she said, “I worked everywhere.”

The patients Howard-Collins remembers the most were kids. Children would often come in abused, she said, with nowhere and nobody to turn to. She’d tell them that they had to love themselves and that there is a better world, even if they couldn’t quite see it yet.

When it was time for discharge, Howard-Collins said, the children often didn’t want to leave.

“They were very, very, very glad to have people like myself and other people to help them – to keep them – where they don’t feel that nobody wants you,” she said.

For 45 years, Hattie Howard-Collins nursed people back to health. From the cancer unit to the alcohol and drugs unit – from the dialysis clinic to the children’s wing, she helped every person she could. She would become the director of nursing. She began her own youth group, counseling children and teaching them the lessons her parents had taught her. She taught other nurses the craft of caring.

Eventually, after decades of devoted work, she was called to serve her own family again, taking responsibility for her parents toward the end of their lives.

But she is clear – she’s never retired.

“I just stopped working for a minute or so,” she said. “They keep telling me ‘you need to come back.’”

‘The spirit of Selma’

On Sunday in Selma, I did not know Hattie Collins’ story.

I was in the city with CBS 42’s Nicole Cook to cover the annual commemoration of the day Janet Howard-Moore remembers all too well.

I stood waiting for Vice President Harris to speak, taking a photograph of a Black woman that was there on Sunday, at that bridge, to bear witness to history.

Because on that hot Sunday morning, Hattie Collins stood out in a crowd of thousands.

The Black woman wore a denim jacket with an orange shirt underneath. She wore a straw hat with two pink flowers fastened on the top.

In the noisy crowd, it was difficult to hear her speak, but I could tell she wanted my attention. She didn’t yell or wave me down. She looked me straight in the eyes. I couldn’t look away.

She asked if I could take her picture with my camera. She wanted to be seen — to be remembered on this important day.

I took the photo.

But in the din of the crowd, as more and more onlookers pushed between us, I lost track of her. She had already been too far away to hear well, but I hoped to keep an eye on her and speak to her after the Vice President’s speech. I wasn’t so lucky.

On Thursday night, I posted her photo on Twitter, asking readers to retweet the image in the hopes of finding this mystery woman and providing her with a copy of her photo.

By Friday, the photo had been shared over 12,000 times. Over a million people had already seen the photograph. Many people quickly became invested in helping to find “the lady in the pink flower hat.”

“Beautiful,” Maya Harris, the Vice President’s sister, replied to the photo.

‘This is just beautiful’

It took less than a day to identify Hattie Howard-Collins.

Her grandson, Ross Walker, a sophomore at Auburn University, was scrolling through Twitter on Friday morning when he came across the photo of his grandmother. He was stunned. He sent the photo to family members.

“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” He asked. They were.

Walker reached out to me on Twitter, and we quickly connected.

“Thank you,” Walker replied to Maya Harris. “My nana is the most generous person I know.”

When her family members got in touch with her and explained the viral photo, Hattie Collins wanted to know who had taken the picture.

Her grandson explained, saying he thought it was a reporter from CBS.

“That is my friend,” Howard-Collins told him.

When I first spoke to Hattie Howard-Collins, she said she was “elated” that her trek to Selma for Jubilee was being celebrated across the country.

“This is just beautiful,” she said. “I would love to meet Maya and Kamala Harris.”

Howard-Collins said that she goes to Selma as often as she can to commemorate Jubilee. This year, Janet was there, too.

“It’s very important for people to make the journey to Selma,” Howard-Collins said. “It’s a part of my history, and it’s a part of everyone’s history, whether they like it or not.”

Howard-Collins said that it was particularly important that she make it to Selma to see Vice President Harris speak. She had never expected to see a Black person serve one of the nation’s highest offices.

But on a Sunday in Selma, she watched on as Harris recalled the history that Howard-Collins’ family lived through, one day at a time.

Despite the blistering heat, the cramped space, and the hours-long wait to see Harris speak, Hattie Howard-Collins said she’d do it all again. For her, history was made that day.

“Now everybody has a role model,” she said. “Not just the white guy is able to say to their child, ‘You know what? We’re the president.’ Black families can do that too.”

In the end, having shared her story, Howard-Collins, as Vice President Harris did in her speech on Sunday, had summoned “the spirit of Selma.”

“We are their legacy,” the Vice President said at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. “The legacy of those who are with us today.”

Hattie Howard-Collins, the woman in the pink flower hat, was glad to be among them.