Selma Alabama Civil Rights Timeline Assignment

Selma-Montgomery March

Background:

To protest local resistance to black voter registration in Dallas County, Alabama, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organized a mass march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. Under the leadership of John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the SCLC's Hosea Williams, a column of five hundred to six hundred demonstrators marched without incident through the streets of Selma until reaching the Edmund Pettus Bridge where they were brutally attacked by state troopers and mounted patrolmen. Television cameramen captured the incident on film, and "Bloody Sunday," as it came to be known, helped marshal nationwide support for the passage of voting rights legislation. Undeterred by the threat of violence, Martin Luther King Jr. led more than three thousand marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge only two weeks later. From there, King's column made the 54-mile trek to the state capital under the watchful protection of the recently federalized Alabama National Guard, arriving in Montgomery four days later.

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Archival Collections and Reference Resources


  • African American collections (University of Florida Libraries)
  • African-American Life in Memphis, Tenn. (Memphis Public Library's Memphis and Shelby County Room)
  • Baldy Editorial Cartoons, 1946-1982, 1997: Clifford H. Baldowski Editorial Cartoons at the Richard B. Russell Library. (Digital Library of Georgia)
  • Civil Rights History Project (Library of Congress)
    • Alfred Moldovan oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in New York, New York, 2011-07-19 (Oral histories (document genres))
    • Anne Pearl Avery oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Selma, Alabama, 2011-05-31 (Oral histories (document genres))
    • David Mercer Ackerman and Satoko Ito Ackerman oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Washington, D.C., 2011-09-20 (Oral histories (document genres))
    • Gwendolyn M. Patton oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Montgomery, Alabama, 2011-06-01 (Oral histories (document genres))
    • Pete Seeger oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Beacon, New York, 2011-07-22 (Oral histories (document genres))
    • Ruby Nell Sales oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Atlanta, Georgia, 2011-04-25 (Oral histories (document genres))
    • William S. Leventhal oral history interview conducted by David P. Cline in El Segundo, California, 2013-04-13 (Oral histories (document genres))
  • Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive (University of Southern Mississippi Libraries)
  • Encyclopedia of Alabama (Encyclopedia of Alabama)
  • Freedom Riders' 40th Anniversary Oral History Project, 2001 (University of Mississippi Libraries)
  • James Karales : 1956-1969 (Duke University Libraries)
  • March on Milwaukee: Civil Rights History Project (Golda Meir Library (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries))
  • Nelson Malden Civil Rights Era Photograph Collection (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
  • Powerful Days in Black and White (Eastman Kodak Company)
  • Records of the District Courts of the United States, 1685-2004 (National Archives at Atlanta)
  • Rosa Parks Papers (Library of Congress)
  • Selma to Montgomery : A March for the Right to Vote : A Visual History by Spider Martin (Spider Martin Photograph Collection)
  • Series 2515 : Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Records Online, 1994-2006, Photographs (Mississippi Department of Archives and History)
  • Voices of Civil Rights (Library of Congress)
  • WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection (Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection)

Educator Resources


1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery

 

Selma Voting Rights Campaign (Jan-Mar)

Photos

SeeThe Selma Injunction for background and previous events.
See alsoSelma & the March to Montgomery for a discussion of the Selma events by Freedom Movement veterans.

Contents:

1965: Voting Rights Background

1965 is the climactic year in the campaign to win Black voting rights. Sometimes referred to as America's "Second Reconstruction," this fight for the vote stretches far back, deep into history.

Previous voting-related articles in this History & Timeline include:

The Situation

Despite years of Freedom Movement struggle, suffering, and sacrifice, few Black voters have been added to voting rolls in the Deep South. Blacks who try to register face legal barriers, so-called "literacy tests," terrorism, economic retaliation, and police harassment. By the end of Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964, after lynchings, shootings, beatings, jailings, evictions, and firings, only 1,600 new voters have been registered in that state — barely .004 of the unregistered Blacks.

While Blacks have deep and bitter knowledge about denial of voting rights, it is only in the aftermath of Freedom Summer, the lynching of Chaney, Schwerner, & Goodman, and the MFDP Challenge to Democratic Convention that awareness of this as a national issue has begun to slowly emerge among white northerners. (And there is little appreciation that similar issues apply to Latinos in the Southwest, and Native Americans in many areas.)

So far as the Johnson administration is concerned, voting rights are not on the agenda for now. After receiving the Nobel Prize, Dr. King meets with the president in December of 1964. Johnson assures King that he'll get around to Black voting rights someday, but not in 1965. LBJ tells King that 1965 is to be the year of "Great Society," and "War on Poverty" legislation — not civil rights. "Martin," he says, "you're right about [voting rights]. I'm going to do it eventually, but I can't get a voting rights bill through in this session of Congress." [6]

The Black Belt, Dallas County, and Selma Alabama

The "Black Belt" region of the South runs from Virginia through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and into the delta of the Mississippi River including portions of Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, and the northwest section of Mississippi.

Geologically, the "Black Belt" is a swath of rich dark soil that runs from Virginia down through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, over to the Mississippi Delta region and portions of Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Historically, the fertile earth of this multi-state Black Belt region was the center of large-scale, labor-intensive, plantation-style agriculture, primarily cotton and tobacco. Before the Civil War, those plantations were worked by Black slaves, and afterwards by Black and white sharecroppers and tenant farmers.

In the 1960s, Blacks still comprise the majority (or close to a majority) of most Black Belt county populations, and the term "Black Belt" is often used to refer to those demographics rather than the soil. In rural Black Belt counties, economic exploitation, white-supremacy and state- repression is intense and brutal. Blacks endure grinding poverty, inadequate housing & health care, "share-cropper education," and an absence of the civil and human rights that white Americans take for granted.

The Alabama Black Belt is part of the larger southern Black Belt. Selma, the seat of Dallas County, is the commercial and political center of the Alabama Black Belt's western portion.

In Dallas County, where SNCC organizers Bernard and Colia Lafayette had started a voter-registration project back in early 1963, no more than 100 new Black voters have been added after two hard years. As 1964 ends, total Black registration in Dallas County is just 335, only 2% of the 15,000 who are eligible.

  Dallas County, Alabama. Voter Registration, 1964.  
Whites Over 21:   14,400 49%
Registered White Voters: 9,195 64%
Blacks Over 21: 15,115 51%
Registered Black Voters: 335 2%

The Department of Justice has filed two voting rights lawsuits in Selma, one in 1961 and the other in 1963. Neither have had any noticeable effect. Justice Department official John Doar reports:

 — John Doar.

As 1964 ends in Selma, Judge Hare's illegal and unconstitutional injunction still in effect. It prohibits Black leaders and freedom organizations from meeting with three or more people at one time to talk about civil rights or voter registration. Organizing and registration efforts are crippled. There have been no public meetings, no protests, no mass registration efforts since the injunction was issued six months earlier. Hare's order is being appealed, but the case is moving through the courts with glacial slowness and no victory is in sight.

To even discuss voter registration, the small, underfunded SNCC staff in Selma is forced by the injunction to meet with local Blacks in secret. Unable to publicly defy Hare's order, they attempt to circumvent it under cover of freedom schools and adult-literacy efforts, but as a practical matter most voter registration and organizing efforts are stymied. SNCC has been the main national civil rights organization in Selma working with and supporting the local Dallas County Voter's League (DCVL) for the past two years, but most SNCC resources — organizers, money, leadership, focus — are concentrated in Mississippi, first for the Summer Project and then for the MFDP Congressional Challenge.

The Alabama Project

Back in September of 1963, when four young girls were killed in the Birmingham bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church, Diane Nash Bevel and her husband James Bevel drew up a "Proposal For Action in Montgomery" — a plan for a massive direct action assault on denial of voting rights.

... we felt that if blacks in Alabama had the right to vote, that they could protect black children. ... [And we] promised ourselves and each other, that if it took twenty years, or as long as it took, we weren't going to stop working on it and trying, until Alabama blacks had the right to vote. So, we drew up that day, an initial strategy-draft for a movement in Alabama designed to get the right to vote. ... [My] job was to get on an airplane and have a meeting with Dr. King, and Fred Shuttlesworth, and encourage them to have a meeting with the staff to make a decision on what to do. — Diane Nash.[26]

Their draft plan called for building and training a nonviolent army 20-40,000 strong who would engage in large-scale civil disobedience by blocking roads, airports, and government buildings to demand the removal of Governor Wallace and the immediate registration of every Alabama citizen over the age of 21. When she presents the idea to Dr. King, she tells him, "..you can tell people not to fight only if you offer them a way by which justice can be served without violence." Rev. C.T. Vivian and SNCC & CORE activists support the idea, but King and most of his other advisors do not consider it feasible.

A month later, Diane and James Bevel again raise the plan, later called the "Alabama Project," at an SCLC board meeting. The general concept of some kind of "March on Montgomery" some time in the future is supported, but no date is set, no specific plans are made, and there is no consensus around the idea of militant direct action and massive civil disobedience. Instead, SCLC's attention is focused on continuing the struggle in Birmingham and the situation in Danville VA.

In November of '63, the assassination of President Kennedy and the FBI's intensifying COINTELPRO attack on the Freedom Movement in general and Dr. King in particular disrupt all plans. In February of 1964, the Bevels again put their proposal for a prolonged nonviolent campaign before Dr. King, adding to it the idea of petitioning Congress to reduce the number of Alabama House members until all Black citizens can vote. An SCLC meeting in March supports the idea, though with Birmingham as the target city rather than Montgomery because of noncompliance with the agreement that ended the 1963 Birmingham protests. But no specific plans are made.

By the Spring of 1964, the so-called "white backlash" against rising Black assertiveness is swelling, and Goldwater's presidential campaign endorsing "states rights" is gaining ground. So too is George Wallace's campaign challenging LBJ in the Democratic primaries.

[In the context of the 1960s, "states rights" meant the right of individual states to impose mandatory racial segregation laws, restrict voting rights, and ignore (or "nullify") race-related Supreme Court rulings that state leaders disliked.]

Fearful of upsetting white voters who might support Goldwater, some northern liberals and conservative Black leaders call for a "moratorium" on all forms of direct action until after the November elections. When Brooklyn CORE calls for a freeway "stall-in" on the opening day of the New York World's Fair, many condemn the action. Dr. King refuses to join the critics:

Frankly, I have gotten a little fed-up with the lectures that we are now receiving from the white power structure, even when it comes from such true and tried friends as [Senators] Humphrey, Kuchel, Javits and Keating. ... [Somehow demonstrations] always become wrong and 'ill-timed' when they are engaged in by the Negro. ... Indeed, we are engaged in a social revolution, and while it may be different from other revolutions, it is a revolution just the same. It is a movement to bring about certain basic structural changes in the architecture of American society. This is certainly revolutionary. My only hope is that it will remain a nonviolent revolution. ... We do not need allies who are more devoted to order than to justice. ... Neither do we need allies who will paternalistically seek to set the time-table for our freedom. ... If our direct action programs alienate so-called friends ... they never were real friends. — Martin Luther King. [6]

In the U.S. Senate, opposition to the pending Civil Rights bill is fierce.

Instead of initiating a new voting rights campaign in Alabama, SCLC decides in late Spring to maintain pressure on Congress by throwing most of its strength into reinforcing the on-going anti-segregation campaign in St. Augustine, FL. The Bevels, James Orange, and a few other members of SCLC's small field staff, begin organizing in Birmingham, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa where a new direct action struggle erupts. But as a practical matter the "Alabama Project" is put on the shelf.

In November 1964, with the Civil Rights Act passed and Goldwater defeated, the Bevels again raise the "Alabama Project," arguing that the time has come to move on voting rights — which cannot be won without national legislation that eliminates "literacy tests" and strips power from county registrars. Such legislation, they argue, can only be won through mass action in the streets.

Meanwhile, in Selma, the injunction continues to stymie Movement activity. Long-time freedom fighter Amelia Boynton tells SCLC that if they are serious about voting rights in Alabama, they should come to Selma and defy the injunction. Rev. C.T. Vivian is sent to consult with DCVL and other Black leaders in Selma.

In late 1964, SNCC's finances were dwindling. This organization was also beginning to experience internal differences regarding philosophies. The organization's effectiveness was waning in Dallas County. ... Those of us who had the vision knew the Movement in Dallas County had to be elevated to another level. We had no choice. Representatives of the Dallas County Voter's League and several local citizens met at the home of Mrs. Amelia Boynton one evening. Mrs. Boynton was an extremely courageous woman. Her husband was the president of the Dallas County Voter's League before I was elected. The Courageous Eight invited representatives from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to the meeting at Mrs. Boynton's home. It was at this meeting that we formally invited SCLC and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Selma. — Rev. F.D. Reese, DCVL [25]

The decision is made. DCVL becomes the SCLC affiliate in Selma and SCLC commits to a voting rights campaign in Alabama with an initial focus on Selma and then expanding into rural Black Belt counties.

We wanted to raise the issue of voting to the point where we could take it outside of the Black Belt ... We were using Selma as a way to shake Alabama ... so that it would no longer be a Selma issue or even an Alabama issue but a national issue. — C.T. Vivian. [6]

Saturday, January 2, 1965, is set as the date for defying the injunction and commencing a massive direct action campaign. There are no illusions. Selma, Dallas County, and the Alabama Black Belt are bastions of white-supremacy and violent resistance to Black aspirations. Everyone understands that when you demand the right to vote in Alabama you put your life — and the lives of those who join you — on the line.

SCLC & SNCC

Both nationally and in Selma, relations between SNCC and SCLC are tense. SNCC staff have been working and organizing in Selma for two years, enduring hardship, danger, brutality, and jail to slowly build an organizational foundation. They deeply resent SCLC coming in to use that foundation for a kind of large-scale mobilization that they distrust. SCLC counters that Selma's local leaders have asked for their help because the injunction has halted progress for six months.

Once close allies in the southern struggle, the two organizations are now on divergent paths. Dr. King and SCLC are still deeply committed to nonviolence, integration, multiracial activism, and appeals to the conscience of the nation. But after years of liberal indifference, federal inaction, and political betrayal, many in SNCC now question, and in some cases explicitly reject, some or all of those concepts.

SNCC is oriented toward building grassroots community organizations led by those at the bottom of society. Rather than seeing themselves as leaders, SNCC field secretaries view themselves as community organizers empowering local people to take control over their own lives. For its part, SCLC maintains that the community is already organized around the Black church, an institution that has sustained and shepherded Blacks through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Great Depression, two world wars, and the modern era of school desegretation and bus boycotts. As they see it, Black ministers are, and always have been, the accepted community heads, and that the focus should be on moving those churches and preachers into social-political action. SNCC argues back that the ministers and congregation leaders are primarily concerned with issues affecting the Black elite and they do little for the sharecroppers, maids, and laborers who fill the pews. SCLC responds that splitting Black communities into rival camps weakens everyone and aids no one.

SNCC field secretaries toil anonymously in the most dangerous areas of the South with little or no media coverage or recognition, and they deeply resent the flood of publicity and adulation bestowed on Dr. King when he visits locales where they have been working for years. Some SNCC members express that bitterness by referring to him in a mocking tone as "De Lawd."

Though King accepts such derision with easy grace, other SCLC leaders and staff bristle with hostility. In SNCC's view, local Black communities can provide their own leaders and that media-centric, "big-name" outsiders like King not only hinder that process but are unnecessary. To SCLC, nationally-recognized spokesmen who can articulate the Freedom Movement to the world are essential, and some openly scoff at what they see as SNCC's over-idealization of local activism, noting that whenever King speaks in a Black community it is those very same local people who flood the aisles to overflowing.

In SCLC's view, the only way to substantially change the lives of those at the bottom of society is to win transformative national legislation like the Civil Rights Act. SNCC sees little value in federal laws that are weakly enforced and that, in any case, do not even attempt to address the grinding poverty of the great majority of the Black population. Without strong organizations of their own, poor Blacks will remain powerless regardless of laws passed in Washington. To counter this, SNCC's strategy is deep community organizing to build local political power at the grassroots.

SCLC's position is that without the vote no community organization can wield effective power; therefore poverty cannot be addressed until Blacks at all economic levels have the ballot. In their view, voting rights can only be achieved through decisive national legislation, and that only large-scale, direct action mobilizations like Birmingham and St. Augustine can overcome white resistance to Black voting rights and force Congress to act. SNCC opposes such mobilization campaigns, saying they inevitably result in mass arrests and increased white terror, both of which disrupt and divert the slow, delicate organizing process. They accuse SCLC of bringing in their own leaders who then fail to leave viable local organizations behind when they move on to the next campaign. SCLC activists deny SNCC's contention, arguing that Black churches and community coalitions like the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights are the continuing foundation of community activism.

In order to win legislation at the national level, SCLC has to influence and maintain ties with the Johnson administration and the northern-liberal wing of the Democratic Party. But LBJ and those same liberals betrayed the MFDP at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City and SNCC wants nothing more to do with them. Instead, they have turned toward building independent Black-led political organizations outside the Democratic Party which puts them in direct conflict with some national party leaders who still hope to retain southern Electoral College votes that are essential to keeping a Democrat in the White House.

On a practical organizational level, unlike the NAACP and CORE who have dues-paying members in self-sustaining chapters, both SCLC and SNCC rely on fund appeals and donations from supporters — often the same groups and individuals — which puts them in direct competition with each other for desperately needed financial resources.

These differences are deeply felt and passionately argued. As 1965 dawns, they remain unresolved.

Selma on the Eve

In the middle of December 1964, SCLC project director James Bevel meets in Montgomery with John Love, SNCC's Selma project director, along with Dave Dennis and Ike Reynolds of CORE to gain their support for the voting rights campaign. The meeting does not go well. Bevel is arrogant and dismissive of views other than his own. There is no agreement.

On December 28, Dr. King convenes a much larger meeting where he presents the SCLC plan, now called the "Project for an Alabama Political Freedom Movement." The proposal is to break the Selma injunction on January 2, engage in mass action and voter registration in Dallas County, and then spread out into the rural counties of the Alabama Black Belt. By spring, the campaign is to evolve into a freedom registration and freedom ballot campaign similar to what SNCC/COFO organized in Mississippi, culminating on May 4 in a direct action and legal challenge to the seating of the entire Alabama state legislature on grounds similar to those of the MFDP Congressional Challenge.

Bob Moses and Ivanhoe Donaldson of SNCC argue against the SCLC proposal. Instead, they urge support for the MFDP congressional challenge. But local leaders and activists from Selma and elsewhere in Alabama strongly endorse SCLC's plan and commit themselves to it. The ministers of Brown Chapel, Tabernacle, and First Baptist courageously pledge their churches for meeting space in defiance of the injunction.

As 1964 draws to a close, SCLC's small field staff — Jim Bevel and Diane Nash Bevel, James Orange, Andrew Marrisett, Willie Bolden, Lester Hankerson, and a handful of others — set up in Selma and begin mobilizing for the January 2nd mass meeting. Already in Selma are a band of SNCC organizers, some of whom have been there for months and years. Among them: John Love, Worth Long, Avery Williams, Prathia Hall, Silas Norman, and Maria Varela.

Years of struggle and danger have forged a cadre of determined local leaders: Amelia Boynton, the reverends F.D. Reese and L.L. Anderson, school teacher Margaret Moore, attorney J.L. Chestnut, dentist Dr. Sullivan Jackson, and his sister Marie Foster the local head of SCLC's Citizenship Schools, and many others such as Claude Brown, Ernest Doyle, James Gildersleeve, J.D. Hunter, and Ulysses Blackman.

The one thing SNCC did not have to do in Selma was identify and develop grassroots community leadership. As I said, this was a self-contained community, and its Dallas County Voter's League had a mighty impressive group of leaders. Some proud, fearless black leaders who, against all odds, had never quit and never backed down. Nuff respect. They were mostly professional people: ministers like the Reverend Mr. Lewis and the Reverend Mr, Reese; Dr. Jackson, who I believe was a dentist; tough-talking, indefatigable attorney J. L. Chestnutt; and of course, the president, Mrs. Amelia Boynton, a former teacher and widely respected leader.

A word about that family. Mrs. Boynton was a gracious, elegantly spoken lady. A teacher deeply committed to her people's uplift; Mrs. Boynton had been president of the Dallas County NAACP. When the NAACP was outlawed in Alabama, she didn't miss a beat. She merely led the membership into the Voters League and became president of that. She was demure, highly "cultured," and quite unintimidatable. The entire Boynton family were warriors. The plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Boynton vs. Virginia, which integrated interstate bus travel, was her son. Her husband also had been a highly respected leader, who managed — with the ingenuity of his widow — to continue the fight literally from his grave.
 — Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). [21]

And eagerly awaiting action are Selma's young warriors — high school and college students who have already born the brunt of confrontation and jail: Charles (Chuck) Bonner, Bettie Mae Fikes, Cleophus Hobbs, Terry Shaw, Evelyn Mann, Thomasina Marshall, Willie Emma Scott, and many others.

An old, three-story brick building occupies the corner of Alabama Avenue and Franklin Street. On the ground floor is a Black funeral parlor, above it are the main offices of Selma's freedom organizations. Directly across the street is Selma city hall with both the city and county jails on the upper floors. If the blinds are open, it's possible to look from the windows of one building into the other.

Inside city hall and over at the county courthouse, the white power-structure cannot agree on how to handle the direct action campaign that SCLC has just publicly announced. Newly elected Mayor Smitherman, a local refrigerator salesman, is a "moderate" segregationist. He hopes to attract northern business investment — Hammermill Paper of Pennsylvania is considering Selma as the location for a big new plant, but they will shy away if "racial troubles" shine a spotlight of negative media on the town. Smitherman has appointed veteran lawman Wilson Baker to head the city's 30-man police force. They and their supporters believe that the most effective method of countering civil rights protests (and avoiding bad press) is to "kill 'em with kindness" as Police Chief Laurie Pritchett did in Albany GA.

Short-tempered Sheriff Jim Clark and arch-segregationist Judge Hare furiously disagree. They and their hard-line, white-supremacy faction are committed to maintaining southern apartheid through brutal repression. As they see it, billy-clubs, electric cattle-prods, whips, jail cells, and charging horses, are what is needed to keep the Coloreds in line — and if Yankee business interests don't like it, they can take their investments elsewhere.

These two factions are at war with each other. Baker narrowly lost to Clark in the sheriff's race, carrying the (white) city vote but not the rural areas. Now they angrily spar over jurisdiction. Baker's cops patrol the city except for the block where the county courthouse sits, which Clark and his deputies control. Outside the city limits, Clark and his volunteer posse reign supreme.

[In the mid-1960s, more than 200 men belonged to the Dallas County Sheriff's posse. Some of them were also members or supporters of racist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan or National States Rights Party. Possemen wore cheap badges issued by Clark and semi- uniforms of khaki work clothes and plastic construction-site safety helmets. They were armed with electric cattle-prods and a variety of hardwood clubs including ax-handles. Some were mounted on horseback and carried long leather whips they could use to lash people on foot. Originally formed after World War II to oppose labor unions, under Clark the posse's mission was to defend white supremacy and suppress all forms of Black protest. And not just in Dallas County. In 1961, the posse formed part of the mob that beat the Freedom Riders in Montgomery, they participated in the mass violence when James Meredith integrated 'Ole Miss in 1962, and Bull Connor called them in to help crack the heads of student protesters during the The Birmingham Campaign of 1963.]

Breaking the Selma Injunction

On New Year's Day, January 1, 1965, Bevel meets with Black leaders in Selma to prepare for breaking the injunction on the morrow. The January 2nd date is chosen because Sheriff Clark will be out of town at the Orange Bowl football game in Miami. Chief Baker has stated that city police under his command will not enforce Judge Hare's illegal injunction, and without Clark to lead them, there is little chance that sheriff's deputies will break up the mass meeting on their own.

The day before the scheduled Mass Meeting it snowed. On 2 January 1965, the first Mass Meeting since July 1964 was held at Brown Chapel. When the injunction was imposed in the summer of 1964, mass meetings were suspended by the courts and there were no such gatherings in Selma for six months.

When we decided to resume the mass meetings in January 1965, all of the local pastors declined to host the initial meeting at their church. Brown Chapel was the only church that opened its doors to the people. This is how Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma became famous and her long time reputation for the cause of Christ remained unblemished. ...

Around 3:00 p.m. on 2 January 1965 we thought no one was going to show for the mass meeting. ... Slowly the people started coming into the church. The Courageous Eight had given every indication that we were ready to go to jail. Law enforcement officers were present to see how many people would turn out. More people turned out than the city authorities expected. They did not arrest us. There were too many Black people inside and outside of Brown Chapel to be confined to the Selma City Jail.
 — Rev. F.D. Reese, DCVL[22]

The mass meeting is a huge success, some 700 Black citizens from Selma, Dallas County, and the surrounding Black Belt fill Brown Chapel to overflowing. They are determined to defy the injunction, determined to be free. Also in the audience are numerous reporters and both state and local cops. Clark is not yet back from Miami and no effort is made to enforce the injunction. Dr. King tells them:

Today marks the beginning of a determined, organized, mobilized campaign to get the right to vote everywhere in Alabama. If we are refused we will appeal to Governor George Wallace. If he refuses to listen, we will appeal to the legislature. If they don't listen, we will appeal to the conscience of Congress. ... We must be ready to march. We must be ready to go to jail by the thousands. ... Our cry to the state of Alabama is a simple one. Give us the ballot! — Martin Luther King. [7]

After the rally, King, local Black leaders, SCLC and SNCC staff meet at Mrs. Boynton's home to plan the next steps. Now that the injunction has been defied without arrests or violence, the focus turns to the demand for voting rights. The voter registration office at the courthouse is only open on alternate Mondays — the next date is January 18. That gives two weeks to recruit, organize, and train voter applicants to show up en masse to register.

On Sunday the 3rd, King leaves for speaking engagements, fund-raising events, and meetings to organize national support. Diane Nash Bevel coordinates SCLC and SNCC staff, now operating in pairs, who fan out through Selma's Black neighborhoods, canvassing door-to-door to talk about voter registration. Though fear is still pervasive, a few courageous souls step forward. On Thursday, January 7, evening meetings and workshops with prospective registrants are held in each of Selma's five electoral wards. Sheriff's deputies barge into some of the meetings to "observe." Bevel electrifies the 50 participants at the Ward IV meeting in Brown Chapel by ordering them out of the building. They leave. The next day, some 200 students attend a youth rally. On Tuesday the 12th, ward meetings of up to 100 begin electing block captains.

Bernard Lafayette, SNCC's first Selma organizer who has close ties to both SNCC and SCLC, arrives from Chicago to help ease friction between the two organizations. Hosea Williams of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC are now in Selma. SNCC and SCLC field staff reinforcements begin to arrive — Fay Bellamy, Frank Soracco, Charles Fager, and others. Silas Norman is appointed SNCC's new Selma project director and former Selma student, now SNCC staff member, Terry Shaw becomes coordinator for Ward III.

King returns to Selma on Thursday, January 14, to address a large mass meeting at First Baptist. He declares Monday a "Freedom Day" when direct action is to commence with a mass march to the courthouse by voter applicants. "If we march by the hundreds, we will make it clear to the nation that we are determined to vote." Volunteers will also apply for "white-only" city jobs, and integration teams will attempt to implement the Civil Rights Act by demanding service at segregated facilities — the first such action since students were beaten and arrested the previous July.

On Friday, January 15 — Dr. King's 36th birthday — a band of Black teenagers skip the Hudson High basketball game to tell movement leaders they intend to ditch school and march on Monday. Big James Orange of SCLC, former high-school football star and Birmingham student leader, tells them to be at Brown Chapel on Monday.

Marching to the Courthouse

Photos

[Under Alabama law at that time, voter registration was a complex process. First, you had to fill out a four- page Application, then take a so-called "Literacy Test", then find someone who was already a registered voter to "vouch" for you, and after all that you then had to wait for days or weeks to find out if the Registrars — in their sole subjective opinion — judged you fit to be a voter. These requirements were rigorously enforced against Blacks, but usually ignored for whites who were allowed to register without hindrance.]

SELMA: On Monday morning, January 18, Black citizens gather at Brown Chapel. After freedom songs, prayers, and speeches, Dr. King and John Lewis lead 300 marchers out of the church in Selma's first protest action since the injunction. Some are courageous adults determined to become voters, others are students for whom freedom is more important than attending class. They walk two-by-two on the Sylvan Street sidewalk (today, Sylvan Street is Martin Luther King Street). Police Chief Wilson Baker quickly halts the line. They have no permit for a "parade," but he agrees to allow them to walk in small groups to the courthouse. In other words, he is not enforcing Judge Hare's "three-person" injunction, but neither is he allowing Blacks to exercise their Constitutional right to peacefully march in protest.

Judge Hare and Sheriff Clark are furious at Baker's "betrayal." Clark, his deputies, and his posse, wait at the courthouse where they — not Baker — have jurisdiction. They bar the main courthouse entrance on Alabama Avenue and herd the Blacks into a back alley out of sight (local whites, of course, are freely allowed in through the front door). In the alley, Blacks wait all day for a chance to fill out the voter application and take the literacy test. As they stand in the cold, they know they are risking far more than just humiliation and abuse. Many of those who tried to register during Freedom Day in October 1963 were evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs. Amelia Boynton, a registered voter, stands by to vouch for anyone who manages to get that far in the process, but since the Registrar is "too busy" for any Blacks to apply, Mrs. Boynton waits in vain.

Meanwhile, integration teams test facilities in downtown. Everyone is served in compliance with the Civil Rights Act. King, Shuttlesworth, and other Black leaders check in for a night at the ornate, historically "white-only," Hotel Albert. While talking in the lobby with Dorothy Cotton, Dr. King is knocked to the floor and kicked by a leader of the National States Rights Party who is quickly arrested by Wilson Baker.

The next day, Tuesday, January 19, Black voter applicants and student supporters return to the courthouse even though the registration office is closed and won't open again for two weeks. This time they are not taken by surprise, and many refuse orders to wait in the back alley — they insist on using the front door on Alabama Avenue. First in line and first to be arrested are Hosea Williams of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC. Amelia Boynton is again present to vouch. Sheriff Clark grabs her by the neck and manhandles her into a police car. Clark's deputies surround those trying to use the main entrance. They use their electric cattle-prods to herd everyone down Alabama Avenue toward the county jail. Among them is 3rd-grader Sheyann Webb (age 8), who later recalls:

I was the youngest, certainly the smallest, of the "regulars" in the demonstrations. ... I was with Mrs. Margaret Moore again.. ... Deputies with sticks and those long cattle prods moved toward us. I squeezed tight on Mrs. Moore's hand; there was a sudden urge to back away, even turn and run. Somebody shouted, "Y'all are under arrest!" I looked up at Mrs. Moore, "Me, too? Are they arrestin' me?" "Don't be scared," she said. "Don't let go of my hand." I saw some of them deputies push our people, saw some of them use the cattle prods and saw men and women jump when the electric ends touched against their bodies. ... My toes were stepped on and I lost my balance several times as we were wedged together. Then they ... began marching us down Alabama Avenue, back toward the [county jail]. I was now holding onto Mrs. Moore with both of my hands, watching so I wouldn't get touched with one of the prods. We were being moved like cattle. ... [At the jail] an officer came up to me and asked why I was there. "To be free," I said. — Sheyann Webb. [9]

Sheyann is released and allowed to return home, but more than 60 others are charged. Lawyers from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund manage to get them released pending trial in time to attend the evening mass meeting where they are honored as heroes.

The following day, Wednesday, January 20, applicants and supporters march to the courthouse in three sequential waves, each one carefully broken into small groups to conform to Baker's decree forbidding "parades." They insist on using the Alabama Street entrance and are all arrested by Jim Clark. Among them is Rev. L.L. Anderson of Tabernacle Baptist, the first minister to open his church for civil rights activity back in 1963. By the end of this third day, some 225 have been incarcerated. A sheriff's deputy cracks wise, "Jim Clark 225, Martin Luther Coon, zero!"

The office hours for the courthouse were 9:00am to 12:00pm. The White workers went to lunch and official business was resumed from 2:00pm to 4:00pm. Some days only 25 or 30 Black people were interviewed and none in that number were registered. The Black citizens kept coming day after day in spite of the schemes that had been designed to frustrate them. ... After standing in line to be interviewed and being beaten cruelly by the sheriff and his deputies and then being arrested; the people would testify at the evening mass meeting: "I came scared, but I feel good bout what I did t' day and I'm ready t' go to jail again." — Rev. F.D. Reese, DCVL[25]

WASHINGTON: On this day when Black citizens in Selma — many of them combat veterans of World War II and Korea — are being denied not only the right to vote but their Constitutional right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, President Johnson is inaugurated in Washington before a huge throng of supporters. Leontyne Price is invited to sing "America the Beautiful," and a White House spokesman brags that this is "The first Inauguration where every operation [is] integrated from the church to the ballroom."

But Johnson's speech contains only a single, vaguely worded, platitude alluding to racial justice. Though many Black leaders and some civil rights activists attend inaugural balls and events, Dr. King is not among them. He has declined all inaugural invitations and remains in Selma.

The Teachers March

SELMA: Throughout the South, inadequate segregated school systems and grinding poverty prevent all but a small handful of Blacks from ever attending college. Those who do achieve a college degree and remain in the region are the educated elite, the intellectual leaders of their communities. But few middle-class positions in the South are open to Black graduates, so most become teachers in "Colored" schools. Though Black teachers are paid less than whites, their incomes are still significantly higher than the sharecroppers, maids, and laborers who comprise the overwhelming majority of the Black community.

In the South, teachers have no unions to protect them. Black teachers can be fired at will by white school boards, and the White Citizens Council stands ever vigilant to root out "agitators" and "trouble-makers." In many southern states, membership in the NAACP is legal grounds for immediate, mandatory dismissal, as is any other form of civil rights activity — or even just trying to register to vote. As a result, while many Black teachers clandestinely support the Freedom Movement, few are willing to sacrifice their financial security by risking any sort of public participation.

But in Selma, a few school teachers such as Margaret Moore and Rev. F.D. Reese defy the school board and Citizens Council by assuming leadership roles. Rev. Reese is both a teacher at Hudson High School and President of the Dallas County Voter's League (DCVL) which becomes the major Selma freedom organization after Alabama suppresses the NAACP in 1956. As the 1965 voting rights campaign intensifies with nightly mass meetings, marches to the courthouse, and students walking out of school to face arrest, Reese, Moore and a few others begin organizing and mobilizing the Black teachers. They challenge their colleagues, "How can we teach American civics if we ourselves cannot vote?" One by one, teachers sign a pledge that they will go together to the courthouse and attempt to register as a group.

Friday, January 22, is the day. After school they gather at Clark Elementary School in their Sunday best — the women in hats, gloves, and high-heels, the men in somber suits. Reese takes roll of those who have promised to march. They are all present. They know they not only risk losing their jobs, they risk arrest — hundreds have already been jailed for trying to register to vote.

The sheriff will think twice about mistreating you. You are teachers in the public school system of the state of Alabama, but you can't vote. We're going to see about that today. If they put us in jail, there won't be anybody to teach the children. [Clark] knows if they're not in school, then they'll be out in the streets. — Rev. F.D. Reese. [9]

Some of the teachers hold up a toothbrush, a visible symbol of their willingness to face jail. Solemnly, silently, 110 of them — almost every Black teacher in Selma — march to the courthouse in small groups as required by Baker. Nowhere in the South, not ever, not in Nashville, not in Albany or Birmingham, not in Durham, Jackson, or St. Augustine have teachers publicly marched as teachers.

Clark Elementary was located in front of the G.W. Carver Homes which were the projects where poverty stricken Black families resided. Parents came out of their simple dwellings to encourage us. Old ladies and old men walked slowly from inside their homes, and stood in front yards and near the sidewalk. The faces of men and women who had, due to their will power and faith, survived under one of the most oppressive and discriminatory systems in a Southern town met our eyes. It is difficult to say to whom this march meant the most, the teachers or the observers. The students who were home from school by this time cheered with delight as the rhythm of our footsteps signaled our intention to execute the plan. Black mothers held their babies and watched with great satisfaction as we marched toward the courthouse. Many Black bystanders in the projects were weeping and sobbing openly as we passed by their homes. They were outwardly shaken by the sound of our footsteps, knowing the teachers were not going to turn around. Many of the weeping bystanders had been arrested on numerous occasions during the past 12 to 18 months, while the teachers had only been exposed to minimal discomforts and abuses.  — Rev. F.D. Reese, DCVL[22]

At the courthouse, Clark and his deputies wait. They wear pistols on sagging belts and carry cattle prods and hardwood billy clubs which they smack against their palms in anticipation. At 3:30 in the afternoon the first group approaches. Led by Reese, they walk two-by-two up the steps of the Alabama Avenue entrance. They will not go into the back alley; they will enter by the front or not at all. As each group arrives, the line snaking down the street grows longer. School Superintendent J.A. Pickard, and Edgar Stewart the School Board president (and a former FBI agent) confront them — the Registrar's is office closed, their request to register after class is denied. Go home.

We refused to move. After one minute or so the sheriff took it upon himself to move us. He drew back and began jabbing me and Durgan in the stomach. The deputies immediately imitated the sheriff's behavior. They began jabbing other teachers and wildly pushing us down the concrete steps. We began to fall back like bowling pins. The teachers grunted, bent over involuntarily as the blows from the clubs registered, and breathed heavily while falling. The strikes from the billy clubs stung. No mercy was shown to the women. The teachers had no weapons and desired none. Determination and will power were our weapons of choice. Clark and his men successfully cleared the front of the courthouse of marchers from the top step to the bottom. — Rev. F.D. Reese, DCVL[22]

With help from SCLC field secretary "Big Lester" Hankerson, Reese reforms the line and leads them back up the steps to the doors. Again the cops drive them down. Again they reform and rise up to the doors that are barred against them.

Clark threatens to arrest them all, but wiser heads prevail. The Circuit Solicitor pulls him inside and can be seen through the glass speaking urgently to him. Until now, only a few hundred Black students have participated in the protests, but if the Black teachers are all in jail, come Monday there could be thousands in the streets. Clark orders the teachers shoved back down the steps a third time. This time, Reese and SCLC leader Andrew Young decide the point has been made. Instead of trying again, the teachers march in their small groups back to Brown Chapel where a throng of their students wait to greet them.

Most of us had viewed the educators as stodgy old people, classic examples of true "Uncle Toms." But that wasn't the opinion that day. I looked about me and saw scores of other children running about the [Carver Housing Project] shouting the news that Mr. Somebody or Old Mrs. Somebody was marching. Could you believe it?

Some little boys came running down the street yelling that they were coming back. Me and Rachel [West] went into the church which was packed with people. We waited and when the teachers began coming in everybody in there just stood up and applauded. Then somebody started to sing ... first one song and then another, as they walked in. And they were all smiling; kids were shaking hands with their teachers and hugging them. I had never seen anything like that before ...

Some of the women teachers were crying, they were so elated. Mrs. Bright spotted me, and rushed forward, hugging me. She appeared to be in a mood of triumph. She laughed, she wiped at her eyes, she hugged me again. I remember she said something about her feet being tired, and I said, "You did real good.
" — Sheyann Webb. [9]

Annie Cooper and Sheriff Clark

SELMA: Over the weekend, U.S District Judge Daniel Thomas in Mobile — a native Alabamian with scant sympathy for Black civil rights — issues rules that permit Clark to continue forcing Black voter applicants to line up in the alley, but he requires that at least 100 must be permitted to wait without being arrested. On Monday, January 25, Dr. King leads marchers to the courthouse where they line up two-by-two as ordered by Thomas. Soon the line grows to 250 or more. Clark orders that all marchers in excess of 100 be dispersed. SNCC worker Willie McRae disputes this interpretation of the judge's ruling and is immediately arrested. He goes limp, and is dragged off to a police car.

Some of the Black voter applicants turn to see what is going on. Sheriff Clark strides down the sidewalk forcing them back into line. One of them is Annie Lee Cooper (54) who, along with a co-worker, was fired from her job at Dunn's Rest Home after they tried to register back in October 1963. When their boss not only terminated them but subjected them to insult and physical abuse, 38 of their fellow workers — Black women all — walked off the job in protest. They too were fired and their photos circulated among potential white employers. Now, 15 months later, most remain unemployed.

Some of the Black voter applicants turn to see what is going on. Sheriff Clark strides down the sidewalk forcing them back into line. One of them is Annie Lee Cooper (54) who, along with a co-worker, was fired from her job at Dunn's Rest Home after they tried to register back in October of 1963. When their boss not only terminated them but subjected them to insult and physical abuse, 38 of their fellow workers — Black women all — walked off the job in protest. They too were fired and their photos circulated among potential white employers. Now, 15 months later, most remain unemployed. Clark twists Cooper's arm and shoves her hard; she hauls off and slugs him with her fist. He is driven to his knees and she hits him again. Mrs. Cooper later recalled:

I saw Jim Clark fling Mrs. Boynton around like a leaf a day or two before. Clark was larger than I on the outside, but I was larger than he on the inside. The altercation started. ... Jim Clark could not take me down alone. The town sheriff and I were going at it blow for blow, punch for punch, and lick for lick, with our fists. It was a plain old street brawl. Suddenly he cried out to his deputies: "Don'y' an see this nigger woman beatin' me? Do some'um." At the urging of the sheriff the others came to his aid. All four of them closed in on me.

Clark took his nightstick and prepared to land a blow. Before he knew it, I had his arm and held it back with a tight grip. Clark brought his billy club over my face. He managed to put enough power in his swing to graze me across the upper part of my eye with the nightstick. The blow stung and was hard enough to draw blood. It struck me over my eye. I was fiercely holding his hand so he could not strike me again. I heard Dr. King urging the marchers to stay calm. He was afraid the marchers were going to turn violent while watching the Policemen attack me. It was four against one. It took everything each of the four had to manhandle me.

The deputies wrestled me down onto the pavement, as the crowd looked on. Clark planted his knee in my stomach, as the deputies had me on my back. That was the only way he could have gotten his knee in my stomach. He stood no chance of wrestling me to the ground alone. The deputies rolled me over on my stomach and handcuffed my hands behind my back. They lifted me to my feet and took me to the paddy-wagon. I was taken through an alley in town. While walking through the alley, Clark took his billy club and landed a blow on my head. It was a fierce lick. The blow cracked my skull. ...

I remained locked up in the town jail the rest of the day. About 11 pm one of the deputies came to my cell. Jim Clark was nearby sleeping off his drunk. He was a heavy drinker. The deputy said: "I'm going to let you go before Sheriff Clark wakes up in a drunken stupor and decides to kill you."
 — Annie Lee Cooper [22]
[In later years, Annie Cooper was elected to the City Council and today there is an Annie Cooper Avenue in Selma.]

Though slugging Clark is a violation of nonviolent discipline, no one in the Freedom Movement holds it against her. Everyone knows Annie Cooper's history of courageous struggle, and behind their impassive faces, everyone on the line is thrilled to see her strike back at the hated sheriff. Most wish they had done it themselves. But the savage retaliation inflicted upon her makes self-evident the tactical necessity of continued nonviolence. And no one can register to vote from a jail cell — if people are going to be arrested it has to be for trying to register. That night the mass meeting is at Tabernacle Baptist. Rev. Anderson praises Annie Cooper, "Who took a beating today for you and for me." SCLC leader James Bevel tells the crowd that no matter how justified, retaliatory violence on the part of demonstrators weakens the Movement because, "Then [the press] don't talk about the registration. We want the world to know they ain't registering nobody!"

After Dr. King speaks, Rev. Abernathy comes to the podium. He is an earthy and exuberant speaker. He picks up a police microphone that had been attached to the pulpit after Bevel ordered the police "observers" out of Movement meetings. Calling it a "doohickey," he directly addresses it (and the officials on the other end) to roars of tension-easing laughter:

"Ralph Abernathy isn't afraid of any white man, or any white man's doohicky either. In fact, I'm not afraid to talk to it man to man. Doohickey, hear me well! I want you, doohickey, to tell ... the good white people of Selma that we are not afraid. When we want to have a parade, doohickey, we'll get the R.B. Hudson High School band and take over the town!" He preaches against the evils of segregation to the doohickey and then holds it out toward the audience and challenges, "They have a rumor out that only a few Negroes want to be free. We are all gonna talk to this doohickey tonight! You see, we've got to let 'em know ... Now before we'll be slaves we'll be what? Talk to the doohickey!" The mass meeting roars its defiance. [7][10]

When the meeting is over, two embarrassed cops remove the doohickey and it is never seen again. But on Tuesday and Wednesday there are more mass arrests at the courthouse as Clark enforces his no-more-than-100 interpretation of the judge's order. Among those arrested are SNCC members John Lewis, Willie Emma Scott, Eugene Rouse, Willie McRae, Stanley Wise, Larry Fox, Joyce Brown, Frank Soracco, and Stokely Carmichael. With the crowds growing larger, Clark calls for reinforcements and Governor Wallace dispatches some 50 Alabama State Troopers under the personal command of Alabama Director of Public Safety "Colonel" Al Lingo. The troopers, and Lingo personally, are notoriously hostile to Blacks and the Freedom Movement. The Selma Times Journal reports that in the week since the protests started on January 18 only 40 Blacks have been admitted to the Dallas County courthouse to fill out the voter application and take the literacy test. None have been added to the voter rolls.

Letter From a Selma Jail

ATLANTA: Arrival of the state troopers greatly escalates tension. Meeting with his Executive Staff in Atlanta, Dr. King decides that it's time for him to call attention to the continuing denial of Black voting rights by going to jail in Selma. From his jail cell, he intends to issue a "Letter From a Selma Jail" that he hopes will have an effect similar to that of his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Up to now, SCLC senior staff have carefully maneuvered to avoid any risk of King being arrested. Changing that policy is a complex strategic decision. He is the prime symbol of Black resistance to white-supremacy and the top target of every racist hate group and fanatic. Clark's deputies are known for their vicious brutality toward Blacks, and past history gives them scant reason to fear any consequences for whatever they might do to a prisoner in their custody. Behind bars, King will be vulnerable to any "lone-gunman" or "crazed assassin" who "mysteriously" finds his way into the Dallas County jail. Moreover, while King is incarcerated, he cannot travel around the country speaking to mass audiences and the national media about the issue of voting rights. Nor can he continue to raise the huge amounts of bail bond money required to keep the Selma campaign going. The Selma marchers are willing to face arrest because they trust that SCLC will bail them out, but if those funds dry up so will the number of protesters.

SELMA: Monday, February 1, is the fifth anniversary of the historic Greensboro Sit-In. Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy lead 260 marchers out of Brown Chapel. Two-by-two they head for the courthouse. As usual, Chief Baker halts the line and orders them to break up into small groups. This time they refuse. As American citizens they have a right to peacefully assemble and march in protest. They know that Baker will arrest them, putting them in the Selma city jail which is run by Baker's police, rather than the county jail which is staffed by Clark's deputies. Most of the marchers are bailed out by SCLC, but as planned, King and Abernathy refuse to post bond and they end up sharing a cell with SCLC staff member Charles Fager. "This is a deliberate attempt to dramatize conditions in this city, state, and community," King tells reporters.

Meanwhile in another church, a throng of students sing freedom songs and wait for the signal. During the January marches, a number of students had simply shown up and participated on their own, but SCLC and SNCC staff made no effort to encourage or mobilize them. Not so today. Organizers have declared February 1st a "Freedom Holiday." After King's mostly adult group is arrested, the students march out more than 500 strong. Some hold cardboard signs with hand-lettered slogans in crayon. All of Baker's cops are herding the first group to jail and processing them through the system, so there's no one to stop the students. They manage to make it all the way to the courthouse where Clark's deputies bust them, put them on school buses, and take them to the armory where a judge holds a rump court. There they are processed and released to the custody of their parents with a warning never to demonstrate again. But many refuse to cooperate and they are taken to Camp Selma, a state-run, chain-gang-style prison out in the bogs west of the city.

Back at the city jail, arrest fails to intimidate the adult group. While waiting to be booked they drink from the "white" water fountain, switch the "White" and "Colored" signs on the toilets, sing freedom songs, and answer questions with insolence and defiance. Deep in the dingy cell block, King talks quietly with the regular prisoners who tell him their stories of southern injustice. One has been waiting two years for trial with no opportunity for bail. Another was jailed after being beaten by cops on the street. Now 27 months later he has still not been told the charges against him. Others have similar tales. King is saddened, but not surprised. Jails all over the Deep South are the same, and until Blacks gain the vote and enough political power to challenge reigning sheriffs and mayors, nothing is going to change.

PERRY COUNTY: Over in adjacent Perry County, February 1st is their first "Freedom Day." Led by local farmer Albert Turner along with SCLC and SNCC field secretaries James Orange and George Best, 600 people march to the courthouse in Marion (pop. 3,800). Some 115 are allowed inside to fill out the voter application and take the literacy test. Students test the town's white-only businesses for compliance with the Civil Rights Act. Some businesses serve Blacks, others continue to refuse. (Turner, who is the main organizer and head of the Perry County Civil League, later joins the SCLC field staff and eventually becomes SCLC's Alabama Director.)

  Perry County, Alabama. Voter Registration, 1961.  
Whites Over 21   3,441 40%
Registered White Voters 3,235 94%
Blacks Over 21 5,202 60%
Registered Black Voters 265 5%

Students march out of Morning Star Baptist Church in Marion to support voting rights for their parents. A state trooper tells SCLC organizer James Orange, "Sing one more freedom song and you're under arrest." The singing continues and 500 are busted. The little county lockup can't hold more than half a dozen prisoners, so they are crammed into a bare concrete stockade and forced to drink from cattle-troughs. After work, some 200 parents assemble at the church and march to protest the brutal conditions inflicted on their children. They too are arrested.

SELMA: The next day, 520 more are sent to jail in Selma, and on Wednesday, another 300 for defying a new injunction issued by Judge Hare forbidding demonstrations outside the courthouse. The total number of arrests in Selma since January 18 is now more than 1,800.

In Selma the cells are full and the small rural lockups are jammed beyond capacity. As arrests mount, prisoners are shuttled to jails and chain-gang camps all over the region. At Camp Selma, the beds are removed so that prisoners have to sleep on the cold concrete floor. They are made to drink from a common tub of water and the single toilet is clogged.

NATIONAL: In New York and Chicago, Friends of SNCC stage sit-ins at federal buildings in support of the Selma campaign and voting rights for Blacks. CORE chapters in the North and West mount similar protests, and hour after hour, pickets circle in front of the White House. From his jail cell, Dr. King issues "Letter From a Selma Jail." SCLC publishes it as a full page ad in the New York Times and Freedom Movement supporters circulate it, but it fails to generate the impact of his earlier "Letter From Birmingham Jail."

WASHINGTON: President Johnson's attention is focused on Vietnam, not Alabama. For more than a decade, deeply unpopular, undemocratic "authoritarian regimes" in South Vietnam have been kept in power by U.S. money, influence and military aid. Now, Buddhists are marching in the streets. Some commit self-immolation as desperate acts of protest. Once again the current military junta is on the verge of collapse. The South Vietnamese army is falling apart — the soldiers don't want to fight — and eight American military "advisors" have just been killed when rebel Viet Cong guerrillas overrun their camp near Pleiku. The Pentagon is calling for the dispatch of American combat forces and a sustained strategic-bombing campaign against North Vietnam.

[Three months earlier, LBJ had campaigned on repeated promises to "Never send American boys to fight in Vietnam," though as the Pentagon Papers later revealed, he was already planning to do just that.]

The public, however, is taking little note of events in distant Asia. Their attention — and pressure — is focused on Selma Alabama and LBJ is forced to respond. On Thursday morning, he issues a statement in defense of Black voting rights:

[All Americans] should be indignant when one American is denied the right to vote. The loss of that right to a single citizen undermines the freedom of every citizen. This is why all of us should be concerned with the efforts of our fellow Americans to register to vote in Alabama. ... I intend to see that that right is secured for all our citizens — President Lyndon Johnson. [6]

Meanwhile, under pressure from the Department of Justice and white moderates in Selma who hope that concessions will weaken or divert the movement, Judge Thomas issues a new order on Thursday morning requiring the Dallas County registrars to stop using the literacy test. It also prohibits them from rejecting Blacks for minor spelling errors on their application. He further mandates that they actually process at least 100 applications on each of the two days per month that registration is open. This represents a slight improvement over his previous order that merely allowed 100 Blacks to wait in the alley without being arrested. But he does not order that any Blacks actually be added to the voter rolls. Nor does he mandate any increase in the number of registration days. Even if all 100 applicants are added to the rolls on each of those two days per month — which no one believes will happen — that's only 200 per month and there are 15,000 unregistered Blacks in Dallas County. Moreover, his ruling still only applies to this single county and nowhere else in Alabama.

Malcolm X Speaks in Selma

TUSKEGEE: On Wednesday evening, February 3, Malcolm X speaks to the students at Tuskegee Institute. SNCC field secretaries Silas Norman and Fay Bellamy invite him to visit nearby Selma the following day.

SELMA: On Thursday morning, SCLC leaders in Selma abruptly suspend protests while they review and evaluate both the new Thomas ruling and the President's statement. Malcolm arrives at Brown Chapel as students and adults are gathering for the daily march — which has just been canceled. SNCC insists that Malcolm be invited to address the crowd. SCLC leaders and local ministers are opposed. They worry he will condemn nonviolence, incite the young students, laud Islam, disparage Christianity, and alienate white supporters with an anti-white diatribe. All their fears prove completely unfounded.

Malcolm's talk covers a wide range from a history of slavery and racism to internationalism.

I'm not intending to try and stir you up and make you do something that you wouldn't have done anyway. I pray that God will bless you in everything that you do. I pray that you will grow intellectually, so that you can understand the problems of the world and where you fit into that world picture. And I pray that all the fear that has ever been in your heart will be taken out. — Malcolm X. [7]

Afterward, he briefly speaks to Correta Scott King and Juanita Abernathy who have come to visit their husbands in jail. "Mrs. King, will you tell Dr. King that I had planned to visit with him in jail? I won't get a chance now ... I want Dr. King to know that I didn't come to Selma to make his job difficult. I really did come thinking that I could make it easier. If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King."

Bound in Jail

SELMA: From his jail cell, Dr. King sends word that suspending protests was a mistake. The next day, Friday, February 5th, the daily marches resume. In the morning, Rev. C.T. Vivian leads some 75 adults to the courthouse. They are all arrested for violating Judge Hare's new injunction prohibiting demonstrations. Some 450 students then march, and they are all arrested too. This brings the total number of voting rights arrests in Dallas and Perry counties to over 3,000. Later that day, King and Abernathy are released on bail.

Most demonstrators, particularly working adults with children to care for and jobs to keep, are quickly bailed out by SCLC. But excessive bail is set for staff organizers and local leaders, and the same is true for students who have been arrested multiple times. Many remain incarcerated for days and then weeks on end. As the cells fill to capacity and overflow, prisoners are transferred to jails in other counties.

Whenever possible, Freedom Movement arestees are kept segregated from the regular prisoners so as not to contaminate the inmates with dangerous ideas such as speedy-trials, right to an attorney, racially-unbiased justice, and other such "subversive" notions. The main exception to this rule is that white civil rights workers are sometimes locked in with white prisoners who are encouraged by the guards to show these "race traitors" the error of their ways with a thorough beating. For their part, the deputies — all white, of course — inflict their own physical abuse on "uppity" Blacks who are rebelling against the sacred "southern way of life."

Jail food is so foul it's inedible until hunger forces inmates to swallow it down while trying not to gag. Though the authorities allocate a daily budget to feed each prisoner, it's up to the jailers to spend the money as they see fit — and they get to pocket whatever is left over. The result is a salt-encrusted diet of black-eyed peas or lima beans contaminated by roaches, a square of crumbly cornbread, acrid black coffee, and on special occasions, grits or a boiled chicken neck. But small as the expenditures are, as the number of prisoners swells, so too do the costs of feeding and guarding them, thereby diminishing the "surplus" funds that deputies and guards are accustomed to skimming off the top.

Inside the jammed cells, Movement prisoners endure uncertainty, boredom, rats, roaches, clogged toilets, inedible food, lack of showers, sweltering heat, and freezing cold. Freedom songs and spontaneous group prayer bolster their courage and spirit. When not singing or praying there is talk. The boys talk about girls (and sex), and the girls talk about boys (and sex). There are also ongoing discussions and debates about the Movement, strategy, tactics, nonviolence, Black history, economics, civics, politics, philosophy, and a universe of other subjects. Some of the prisoners are college graduates or undergrads, some are still in segregated "Colored" schools where many topics are forbidden and cannot be spoken of openly, and some have had little or no formal education at all, though they are well- schooled in the brutal realities of white-supremacy and Black exploitation. Each person teaches what they know, and soaks up new knowledge from everyone else. The jam-packed cells become intellectual pressure-cookers where new ideas, new concepts, and new contexts ferment, bubble, and fume. In later years, some of the young students tell interviewers that it was this jailhouse university that inspired them to find their way to college, something they had not previously thought might apply to themselves.

Sometimes, as the tension and frustration grow intolerable, there are arguments and bitter recriminations. There are also jokes and japes and jeers and laughter. One perennial favorite is that sooner or later someone newly arrested and shoved into a crowded cell inevitably asks, "How long do you think we'll be in here?" A veteran of the cage replies, "What did you say your name was, again? When the new fish answers, the old hand nods wisely and says, "Oh, yeah, you're on the B-list." "The B-list? What's the B-list?" And everyone then shouts, "You're going to beeeeee here for a looooong time!"

Clubs and Cattle Prods

MONTGOMERY: Courthouse marches and arrests continue in Selma, but an effort to expand the campaign into Montgomery fizzles. Only a hundred potential voters show up for a march to the Montgomery courthouse. When they arrive, officials open the books and allow them to apply without hindrance. There is no drama, no tension, and no follow up.

WASHINGTON: On Tuesday, February 9, Dr. King travels to Washington to meet with Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and briefly with President Johnson. LBJ is still preoccupied with Vietnam, but the Selma campaign is generating intense public and congressional pressure to do something about Black voting rights. He tells King that he will soon send legislation addressing the issue to Congress — though what it will consist of is not clear.

SELMA: Sacrifice and suffering are begining to wear down the Black community. Some are becoming discouraged and weary after weeks of futile struggle. Adults and children are enduring arrest after arrest and longer sojourns in dreary cells, parents are being fired from jobs and families evicted from their shacks. The weather is wet and cold and, in too many homes, there's scant funds for food and even less for heat. And no one is being registered to vote. No one is being registered to vote, no victories are in sight, not even small ones such as a neighbor or relative achieving recognitiion as a citizen-voter.

On the white side, the costs of policing marches, arresting thousands of demonstrators, and feeding, guarding, and transporting hundreds of prisoners is bankrupting Dallas County. Deputies and jailors are personally feeling the effects as they're forced to spend money on feeding prisoners that normally would find its way into their personal pockets as traditional perks of office. They are not amused.

On Wednesday, February 10, some 160 students march to the courthouse carrying hand-lettered signs reading "Let Our Parents Vote," "Wallace Must Go," and "Jim Clark is a Cracker." By now, the courthouse protests have become somewhat routine; everyone knows what to expect, and with so many of the SCLC and SNCC staff either in jail or working in the outlying counties, the students are organizing and leading their own marches. But this time is different.

"Move out!" Clark shouts, and his deputies and possemen herd the students — some as young as nine — down Alabama Avenue toward the jail. They assume they're being arrested as usual. But instead of entering the jail, the cops force them to start running. "You wanted to march, didn't you? March, dammit, march!" shout the deputies as they jab and poke with their clubs. Clark rides along in his car as the young protesters are forced to run down Water Street and then out on lonely, isolated River Road bordering the Alabama River sloughs and bogs. Clubs strike those not moving fast enough and the searing pain of the possemen's electric cattle-prods burn through their winter clothes. Run! Run! Faster! Faster!

At the creek bridge, sheriffs use their cars to block the road so that reporters and photographers back at the courthouse — who were taken by surprise by Clark's switch — cannot catch up. A fifteen-year-old boy pants to a guard, "God sees you." The deputy smashes him in the mouth with his hardwood club. Some of the students collapse, vomiting, and shaking. They are beaten with clubs to keep them moving until they can run no more. Some bolt, or are driven, into the bogs, others manage to escape to a Black-owned farm.

Clark returns to the courthouse. With a smirk and wink, he tells reporters that the student prisoners "escaped" his custody. SNCC Chairman John Lewis writes out a statement on a scrap of paper:

This is one more example of the inhuman, animal-like treatment of the Negro people of Selma, Alabama. This nation has always come to the aid of people in foreign lands who are gripped by a reign of tyranny. Can this nation do less for the people of Selma? — John Lewis. [11]

Clark's brutal treatment of the Black community's children re-energizes the movement which had been sagging under the weight of march after march, arrest after arrest, all for little result. The next day, Thursday, more than 400 adults and students march to the courthouse in a revitalized show of strength. The wave of adverse publicity caused by Clark's cruelty temporarily gives Wilson Baker the upper hand in the ongoing struggle between them, so Baker is able to apply his "kill 'em with kindness" strategy. Hare's injunction is not enforced, and no one is arrested or beaten. Clark and Hare are furious.

Holding On and Pushing Forward

Arrests countinue to mount, people continue to lose their jobs, and the endurance of Selma's Black community is sorely tested. Tension and disagreement among SCLC, SNCC, and DCVL leaders erupt into dispute. The immediate issue is how to respond to the minimal concessions contained in Judge Thomas order of February 4th, a question that invokes the conflict between SCLC's goal of winning national legislation, SNCC's dedication to grassroots community organizing of those at the bottom of society, and DCVL's focus on matters specific to Selma and Dallas County. Initially, SCLC and SNCC reject the order and boycott its procedures, most notably an "appearance book" that Blacks may sign whenever they wish. Under the new Thomas ruling, on the two days per month the Registration office is open Blacks will be allowed to fill out the voter application in the order their names are listed in the appearance book — without having to wait all day in the alley. But as SNCC organizers Silas Norman and John Love report:

SNCC staff in Selma disagreed basically with the requirement that Negroes should be made to sign an appearance book in order to be processed, as this was just one more form of discrimination. Sheriff Clark has made a mockery of this court order by calling off the numbers which the people were given when they signed the appearance book so fast that people can't possibly get from their place in line to the registrar's office in time to be registered. Sheriff Clark may keep doing this; we don't know. — Silas Norman and John Love. [12]

DCVL argues that even though the Thomas order does not apply to any other county in the state, it should be characterized as a small, encouraging, partial victory to raise spirits. And its procedures should be followed in the hope of getting at least some Black voters added to the rolls. With the national press hammering the Movement for rejecting Thomas' token measures — "" claims the Associated Press (AP) — SCLC fears that such stories will derail chances for national legislation, so SCLC leaders reverse their position on boycotting the appearance book. SNCC continues to oppose the new procedures because they apply only to Blacks and offer no hope of illiterate Blacks ever being registered because the order only requires that they be "processed," not that they be registered. In the end, a decision is made to suspend the appearance book boycott, mobilize Selma Blacks to sign it, and concentrate more heavily on the rural counties where the order does not apply.

Meanwhile, SCLC leader James Bevel is incarcerated in the sheriff's county jail where he is the target of unremitting abuse and degradation. Word filters out that he has fallen seriously ill with viral pneumonia and the deputies are hosing him down with cold water in an unheated cell. His wife, Diane Nash Bevel, works the phones calling reporters and federal officials about his desperate condition. Finally, she manages to get him transferred to an infirmary where he is shackled with iron chains to a bed until she is able to get them removed.

On Monday, February 15, voter registration offices are open for applications. This is the second and last voter registration day in February. The local white power-structure is still reeling from the bad publicity of Clark's brutal forced march. For the moment Mayor Smitherman and Baker have the upper hand in their political conflict with the Hare-Clark faction. Baker grants a parade permit so that Blacks can march to the courthouse. Assured there will be no arrests or police violence, some 1,500 Black men and women march in the largest protest to date.

Though the marchers are hopeful there will be no arrests or beatings, they all know they are risking economic retaliation. Some are taking an unauthorized day off work and the consequences could be termination. Others risk evictions, foreclosures, and business boycotts. For many, it is their first march. Sheyann Webb later recalled:

"What time they marchin'?" my daddy asked. It was so strange the way he said it, and I knew that he and Momma were going to go that day. ... I hugged them both. I was so proud of them. It was late in the morning — maybe ten-thirty or so — when the march started. ... I walked between my parents, holding their hands, and we sang all the way down there. But the jubilation soon began to diminish as we stood and stood. The line moved at a crawl. At noon, some of the courthouse workers came out, and I remember some white women going by and spraying Raid insecticide and another can of some kind of disinfectant toward us; they wrinkled up their noses like we were smelly things. I remember my momma's eyes got wide and her mouth was set in a tight line, like she wanted to shout at them, but some of the march leaders were walking up and down the line telling us to stay calm. So we started singing again.

We stayed there until late in the afternoon, and when Momma and Daddy got in they were told they couldn't be registered that day but were given a number which, they were told by the man in the office, would "hold" their place the next registration day. It was a disappointment to all of us. But as we hurried home Momma was saying she didn't care how long it took, she was going to be back each day they held registration until she could vote. She was now determined. ... And when I say we hurried home, I mean it. Standing there all day was not only a challenge of our resolve to be full citizens, but also was an endurance test of our bladders. — Sheyann Webb. [9]

The line of waiting applicants stretches for blocks in the dank February cold. Over the course of the day, almost 100 who have low numbers in the appearance book are allowed to fill out voter applications, some 600 more sign the book for a chance to apply in the future. When school ends in the afternoon, the teachers join the end of the queue, and 800 students march by to honor the adults.

WILCOX COUNTY: That same day, in adjacent Wilcox County — about as rural as an Alabama county can get — Dr. King accompanies 70 Blacks to the courthouse in Camden. Some are allowed to fill out the application and take the literacy test, but even in the unlikely event they pass the test, they cannot be registered because there are no registered Black voters to "vouch" for them and no white voter would dare do so.

  Wilcox County, Alabama. Voter Registration, 1961.  
Whites Over 21   2,634 30%
Registered White Voters  2,950 *112%
Blacks Over 21 6,085 70%
Registered Black Voters  0 0%
* White registration exceeds 100% because whites are retained on the voting rolls after they die or move away. Oddly, these dead or gone "tombstone" voters often manage to cast votes for the incumbents in each and every election.

PERRY COUNTY: King leaves Camden and drives to Perry County where another long line of Blacks is waiting at the courthouse in Marion for a chance to register. When the registration office closes at the end of the day, 150 are still waiting. The cops drive them off with clubs.

LOWNDES COUNTY: In Lowndes, the county that adjoining Dallas Caounty on the east, Blacks comprise 80% of the population but no Blacks have voted there since the end of Reconstruction. Freedom Movement activists hope to develop a registration campaign, but the Klan is so strong in "Bloody Lowndes" and white violence so prevalent, that no Black church dares the risk of holding a meeting. That's just fine by Carl Golson, the Lowndes County Registrar of Voters, who tells a reporter, "I don't know of any Negro registrations here, but there is a better relationship between the whites and the niggers here than any place I know of."

  Lowndes County, Alabama. Voter Registration, 1961.  
Whites Over 21:   1,900 27%
Registered White Voters: 2,240 118%
Blacks Over 21: 5,122 73%
Registered Black Voters: 0 0%

SELMA: Later that evening, the turnout for the nightly mass meeting at Brown Chapel is large. Large and frustrated. Despite marches, arrests, court orders, and over a thousand appearance book signatures, only a trickle of Blacks have actually been registered to vote. Hosea Williams tells them that despite the huge number of Blacks who lined up at the courthouse that day, "We're just about as far from freedom tonight as we were last night."

The Shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson

SELMA: The sight of 1,500 Blacks freely marching to the courthouse in Selma without arrest or retribution outrages Hare, Clark, and the other hard-line segregationists. The White Citizens Council runs a full-page ad in the Selma Times-Journal equating the Civil Rights Act with Communism, and in a sign that the political tide is swinging back toward Hare and Clark, the paper editorializes that King has pushed ""

PERRY COUNTY: At a meeting in adjacent Perry County, angry whites physically attack two of their own for daring to suggest negotiating with Blacks, and local officials ask Governor Wallace to send them a force of state troopers to bolster their small sheriffs department which doesn't have enough deputies, or any organized posse, to suppress rising Black discontent.

SELMA: The focus is now on adding new signatures to the appearance book rather than lining up en masse day after day at the Dallas County courthouse. On Tuesday, February 16th, John Lewis of SNCC and C.T. Vivian of SCLC lead a small band of those who have not yet signed the book to add their names. Both men are stalwarts of the Freedom Movement having come up together through the Nashville sit-ins, Freedom Rides, Parchman Prison, Albany, Birmingham, and Freedom Summer in Mississippi. A cold rain is falling, and Vivian leads the little group to the Alabama Street entrance where an overhang provides some shelter. Sheriff Clark bars the door, allowing only a few at a time inside. Citing Judge Hare's injunction, Clark orders the remainder to leave. C.T. confronts him face to face, "You're a racist the same way Hitler was a racist!" Deputies push them off the steps with their clubs, knocking several people to the pavement. Vivian leads them back to the door. They demand to be let in out of the rain. A deputy smashes his fist into C.T's face, sending him reeling back with blood flowing from his mouth. Then they drag him off to jail.

At the mass meeting on Wednesday night, DCVL leader Rev. Reese calls for an economic boycott of white stores owned by, or employing, members of Clark's posse. Dr. King, ill with a viral fever, hoarsely tells the crowd, "Selma still isn't right! ... It may well be we might have to march out of this church at night..."

By now, most of those in Brown Chapel are veterans of direct action and they are grimly aware of what a night march implies. Night marches allow adults with jobs to participate after work which increases numbers and political impact. But night marches are dangerous because Klansmen, police, and possemen can attack under cover of darkness with little risk of being identified. Even with flash bulbs and portable spotlights, the range of media cameras is sharply curtailed and it's easy for the cops to keep reporters far enough away so that nothing is recorded on film.

PERRY COUNTY: The next day, Thursday, the 18th of February, twenty carloads of Alabama State Troopers led by Al Lingo swarm into Marion to suppress Black defiance and restore peaceful tranquility to the "southern way of life." SCLC project director James Orange is spotted walking on the street and is arrested for "contributing to the delinquency of minors" (by encouraging students to march around the courthouse singing freedom songs).

James Orange is immensely popular among both young and old in Perry County's Black community, and that night tiny Zion Methodist Church is packed to overflowing as word spreads of his arrest. The lockup where Orange is being held is just a block and a half away. The plan is for a short night march so they can sing freedom songs outside his cell window and then return. If the troopers block them, they plan to kneel in prayer and then go back to the church.

Albert Turner and local minister, Rev. James Dobynes, lead 400 marchers out of the church and up Pickens Street two-by-two on the sidewalk. They are halted by Lingo's troopers. Jim Clark and some of his Selma posse are also present, along with an angry mob of local whites. As planned, Dobynes kneels and begins to pray. Suddenly, all the street lights go dark. The mob savagely attacks news reporters covering the protest. Richard Valeriani of NBC is clubbed, his head bloodied. Some of the mob have come prepared with cans of spray paint they use to sabotage camera lenses. Others smash the TV lights. No photos are taken of the troopers, deputies, and possemen wading into the line of marchers with hardwood clubs and ax-handles flailing, beating men, women, and children to the ground.

SCLC field secretary Willie Bolden recalls:

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