This Day in Civil Rights History - MARCH

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March 31, 1966

3,000 Students Boycott Seattle Schools to Protest Segregation and Discrimination in the Heavily Black Central District

Below: Excerpted in whole from Seattle School Boycott (1966), Blackpast

On Thursday March 31 and Friday April 1, 1966, thousands of Seattle Public School students boycotted schools in the Central District, Seattle Washington’s African American community, to protest the de facto segregation that they believed was racially discriminatory.

The students and their leaders felt that most of the educational deficiencies among the bulk of Seattle’s 9,300 African American students stemmed from their attending thirteen substandard schools that were overwhelmingly and in some cases exclusively African American. All of these schools were under funded, staffed with less experienced teachers, and had lower test scores and graduation rates.

The boycott followed years of attempts by African American leaders to persuade the Seattle School District to address these inequities. They had submitted a number of proposals including a comprehensive “Triad” program that would insure that black and white students schooled together; a request that the board publish a comprehensive plan to address segregation and implement in-service training for school personnel.

See The Seattle School Boycott of 1966 for comprehensive coverage, including oral histories of elder activists.
From The Seattle Times, March 31, 1966

Their proposals also included a four point program that would have closed some schools, established an integrated education center in the Central District and a Head Start program, and paid transportation costs for a voluntary desegregation program that the Seattle School Board initiated the previous year. The School Board turned a deaf ear to their requests, so the Seattle chapters of the NAACP and CORE, and the Central Area Committee for Civil Rights, organized a boycott.

On Thursday and Friday approximately 3,000 students, including about 1,000 white and Asian American students, boycotted their regular classes to attend eight Freedom Schools that had been set up in churches and community buildings throughout the Central District. There students in integrated settings took courses on African American history and civil rights taught by volunteer teachers including many college students on spring break. Three public school teachers also instructed students during the boycott. The surprising support for the boycott forced the Seattle School Board to eventually implement most of the programs requested by boycott leaders.

March 30, 1964

Floor Debate Begins on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Begins 57 Day Filibuster Led by Southern Democrats

Below: Excerpted in whole from Filibuster Against 1964 Civil Rights Bill Begins, Today in Civil Liberties History

What is arguably the most famous filibuster in the history of the U.S. Senate began on this day as Southern segregationists attempted to block the civil rights bill pending in the Senate.

Nineteen Senators (18 Southern Democrats and one Republican), led by Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, conducted the filibuster, which lasted for 57 working days. Senator Richard Russell, Jr, of Georgia vowed, “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our (Southern) states.”

[Historical note: unlike current times, in those days senators had to actually speak continuously in order to maintain a filibuster.]

It finally ended on June 10, 1964, as a result of a historic cloture vote that was required to end debate. It was only the second time since 1927 that the Senate had used cloture to cut off debate. The cloture vote was 71 to 29, representing a coalition of Democrats from outside the South and moderate Republicans. The bill was then approved by the Senate and became the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law on July 2, 1964.

New York Times, March 31, 1964.

March 29, 1964

Clergy and Worshippers Arrested for Attempting to Enter Segregated Churches in Jackson Mississippi for Easter Services

On March 29, 1964, several white churches in Jackson, Mississippi barred three Black men—including one minister—from attending Easter Sunday services, forcibly removing them from church or blocking their entrance. Two of the Black men and seven white clergymen who had accompanied them were arrested and jailed after the churches turned them away; their bonds were set at $1,000 each.

When Methodist Bishops Charles Golden, a Black man, and James Matthews, a white man, tried to enter the Galloway Memorial Church that morning, ushers on the church steps refused to let them enter, citing “church policies.” As ranking members of the Methodist denomination, the two bishops asked to speak to the church minister, but the ushers refused to let them. While the men stood outside the church deciding what to do next, a white crowd harassed them with taunts and jeers until the men left the church grounds. In an interview, Bishop Golden would later question the wisdom of "those who presume to speak and act for God in turning worshipers away from his house."

Bishop Golden and Bishop Matthews were able to leave freely, but 10 blocks away, an interracial group of nine men were arrested when they attended Easter service at the Capitol Street Methodist Church. Ushers on the church steps tried to block them from entering, and when the group of men tried to go around the ushers, they were arrested and charged with trespassing and disturbing the peace. The group included two young Black men named Robert Talbert and Dave Walker, and seven white men—clergy, theological teachers, and deans from several schools and colleges outside of Mississippi—who had accompanied them to the service. The men had carried with them a statement that read "To exclude some of those whom Christ would draw unto himself from church...on Easter...because of color is a violation of human dignity."

The day after their arrests, a judge convicted all nine men of “disturbing public worship” and sentenced them each to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Several weeks earlier, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had announced plans to lead anti-segregation protests in St. Augustine, Florida, over Easter, in response to recent violence against civil rights activists there.

New York Times, March 30, 1964, reformatted for this post.

Dr. King urged Northern supporters of civil rights to travel south to join “pray-in” and “kneel-in” demonstrations at the city’s segregated churches, and that Florida effort likely helped to inspire the activism in Jackson. Like in Mississippi, several St. Augustine protesters were also arrested—and even beaten—for trying to integrate Easter services at all-white churches.

This racist treatment of individuals seeking to attend church illustrates how many white denominations—particularly those in the South—remained defiantly committed to racial segregation as an essential component of white supremacy and racial inequality, even a decade after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Three months later, in June 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the law outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, but could not immediately end white Americans’ massive resistance.

March 28, 1963

Police Dog Attacks Activist as Voting Rights Actions Continue in Greenwood, Mississippi

Above: New York Times, March 29, 1963, reformatted for this post.
Below: Excerpted in whole from Police Loose a Dog on Negroes' Group; Minister Is Bitten, The New York Times, March 29, 1963. Click link for full stories.

GREENWOOD, Miss., March 28—Policemen set a snarling dog at the heels of 42 Negroes today as they marched homeward after having applied to register as voters.

The German shepherd lunged again and again at the group and seized the left ankle of the Rev. D. L. Tucker. The minister apparently was not bitten seriously.

A half dozen policemen and auxiliary policemen armed with nightsticks drove the other Negroes along a sidewalk in the heart of the business section until they had dispersed. White bystanders yelled at the patrolmen handling the dog, “Turn him loose!" And “Sic ‘em, sic ‘em.”

An summary of actions in Greenwood, Mississippi from March 24-29, 1963, From SNCC Newsletter, April 1, 1963, Civil Rights Movement Archives,
The Rev. D. L. Tucker, left, leads a small group of African Americans to the Leflore County Courthouse in Greenwood, Mississippi on March 28, 1963 to register as voters in the community. AP Photo/Jim Bourdier

Report of Sit-in

Mayor of Charles E. Sampson was asked why the police had dispersed the Negroes, who are marching by twos along the sidewalk and stopping for traffic signals.

"They had a report up there that them niggers was going to the Alice's Cafe for a sit-in," the mayor replied.

The only arrest made was that a Dick Perez, identified by the police as a Columbia Broadcasting System television cameramen. He was released without charges after his film of the incident had been confiscated.

The dispersal of the Negroes was the latest in a series of incidents accompanying a voter registration campaign in this farming and industrial center in the Mississippi delta.

Racial tension, whipped up by the voting drive and attacks on Negroes, created an explosive situation. City officials conceded that they were alarmed.

Greenwoods 30-man police force was reinforced by 24 auxiliary police men, sheriffs and deputies from LeFlore and surrounding counties, and by state troopers.

Two Justice Department attorneys and six or more agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation moved into the city, which is on the banks of the Yazoo River.

Roughly dressed whites stood on sidewalks in the vicinity of the courthouse and muttered threats. More than 150 gathered at the City Hall this afternoon during the trials of nine of 11 Negroes arrested yesterday while marching toward the courthouse to protest against the shotgun attack on a Negro's house Tuesday night.

City judge L. O. Kimbrough, sitting as the justice of the peace, postpone the trial of James Foreman pending the arrival of Mr. Foreman's attorney. The Negro is secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of Atlanta, one of four civil rights organizations cooperating in the voter registration campaign.

March 27, 1961

Tougaloo Nine Arrested During Peaceful Read-in at Segregated Library in Jackson, Mississippi – Protests, Violence, and Expulsions Follow

The Tougaloo Nine are escorted from the Jackson Public Library in 1961. Pic credit: Santa Clara University
Excerpted in whole from The Tougaloo Nine (1961),

The Tougaloo Nine were nine students who, in 1961 while undergraduates at Tougaloo College, staged sit-ins at the all-white Jackson Main Library in Jackson, Mississippi. Prior to the sit-ins, African Americans were prohibited from using the city’s main library. The Nine—Meredith Coleman Anding Jr., James Cleo Bradford, Alfred Lee Cook, Geraldine Edwards, Janice Jackson, Joseph Jackson Jr., Albert Earl Lassiter, Evelyn Pierce, and Ethel Sawyer—were members of the Jackson Youth Council of the NAACP. Medgar Evers, who was who then president of the Jackson branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), trained Tougaloo Nine for the sit-in protest.

On March 27, 1961, the Tougaloo Nine began their protest by entering the Jackson Main Library. Typical of civil rights demonstrators of that era, the women wore dresses and the men wore shirts and ties. The Nine first visited the George Washington Branch (Colored) to request books they knew would not be in that facility. When they were told the books were not there, they went to Jackson Public Library where they attempted to stage a “read-in.” They sat at different tables across the library reading library books quietly. The Librarian called the Jackson police who arrived and asked them to leave. When they did not, the nine were arrested, charged with of breach of the peace, and jailed.

Later that day, students from Jackson State College, a pre​dom​inant​ly black institution, organized a prayer vigil in support of the Tougaloo Nine. Hundreds of people attended the vigil which was broken up by Jackson State College President Jacob Reddix, who was backed by city police. Three students—Joyce and Dorie Ladner and student body President Walter Williams, who organized the prayer vigil—were expelled from Jackson State College for their support of the Tougaloo Nine.

On March 28, other Jackson State students boycotted classes in protest, held another rally, and marched to the Jackson City Jail were the nine were being held. They were joined by townspeople led by Medgar Evers. Jackson Police used tear gas and dogs against the protesters which included women and children. An 81-year-old man suffered a broken arm from an attack by a police officer with a nightstick. Evers’s supporters raised bail for the protesters who were arrested. They were later represented by local civil rights attorney Jack Harvey Young Sr.

The Tougaloo Nine went to trial on March 28, 1961 and were all found guilty of breach of the peace. Each student was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $100. The judge however suspended the sentences on the condition that there would be no further demonstrations. There were none.

Nonetheless the Tougaloo Nine’s actions led the NAACP to file a class action lawsuit on January 12, 1962 against the Jackson Public Library, calling for its integration. In June 1962 U.S. District Court Judge William Harold Cox ordered the Library to desegregate. Although the Tougaloo Nine episode was one of the first desegregation victories in the 1960s civil rights campaign in Mississippi, the story was largely ignored at the time. On August 17, 2017, the Tougaloo Nine was honored for their contributions with a freedom trail marker in Jackson, Mississippi.

One of the Tougaloo Nine, just prior to being arrested at the Jackson Main Library, March 27, 1961. From Tougaloo Nine to receive Freedom Trail Marker,
Tougaloo Nine: (from top left) Joseph Jackson Jr., Albert Lassiter, Alfred Cook, Ethel Sawyer, Geraldine Edwards, Evelyn Pierce, Janice Jackson, James Bradford, and Meredith Anding Jr., 1961, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Chapel Hill (N.C.) Public Library Banned Books Week trading card created by Mississippi artist Michael Crowell, showing Geraldine Edwards Hollis based on her police mug shot.
Scenes from Mississippi History: The Tougaloo Nine, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Geraldine Hollis was one of nine students at Tougaloo College who staged a sit-in at a whites-only library in Jackson, Miss., in 1961. In this video, Hollis describes her early life in Mississippi and the cultural environment that led to the sit-in. Read more about Geraldine Hollis, The Tougaloo Nine RememberedA Civil Rights pioneer recalls the 1961 read-in in Jackson, Mississippi, June 26, 2017, American Libraries Magazine.

March 26, 1964

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X Meet For First and Only Time

Above: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X meet at the U.S. Senate on March 26, 1964, after a hearing on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Library of Congress.
Below: Excerpted in whole from Martin Luther King Jr. met Malcolm X just once. The photo still haunts us with what was lost, The Washington Post, January 14, 2018

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X met only once. On March 26, 1964, the two black leaders were on Capitol Hill, attending Senate debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

King was stepping out of a news conference, when Malcolm X, dressed in an elegant black overcoat and wearing his signature horn-rimmed glasses, greeted him.

“Well, Malcolm, good to see you,” King said. “Good to see you,” Malcolm X replied.

Cameras clicked as the two men walked down the Senate hall together. “I’m throwing myself into the heart of the civil rights struggle,” Malcolm X told King.

King would say later: “He is very articulate, but I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views — at least insofar as I understand where he now stands.”

The exchange would last only a minute, but the photo remains a haunting reminder of what was lost. They would never meet again before each was assassinated, first Malcolm X and then King

That moment on Capitol Hill would continue to be analyzed by scholars for its import and its potential. Every word would be scrutinized. Some would call it the moment the two leaders reconciled. Others would say they were never that far apart. They both had the same goal: equal rights and justice for black people in America.

The following year, Malcolm X went to Selma, where he had a cordial meeting with Coretta Scott King and other civil rights leaders. King was in jail at the time but recalled later:

“He spoke at length to my wife, Coretta, about his personal struggles and expressed an interest in working more closely with the nonviolent movement. He thought he could help me more by attacking me than praising me. He thought it would make it easier for me in the long run. He said, ‘If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King.’ ”

Only a few days after his visit to Selma, on Feb. 14, 1965, someone firebombed Malcolm X’s house in New York, while he and his family slept inside. A week later, on Feb. 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated by black Muslim extremists during a rally in New York City’s Audubon Ballroom.

In his Amsterdam News column, King mourned him. “Like the murder of [Congo Prime Minister Patrice] Lumumba, the murder of Malcolm X deprives the world of a potentially great leader. I could not agree with either of these men, but I could see in them a capacity for leadership which I could respect.’’

In a telegram to Malcolm X’s widow, Betty Shabazz, King wrote: “While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem.”

Three years later, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. He was the same age as Malcolm X: just 39.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., left, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Malcolm X, head of a new group known as Muslim Mosque, Inc., smile for photographers March 26, 1964, at the Capitol. They shook hands after King announced plans for “direct action” protests if Southern senators filibuster against the civil rights bill. Malcolm X, who has broken with the Black Muslims, predicted another march on Washington if a filibuster against the civil rights drags on. AP Photo/Henry Griffin

King and Malcolm X were often seen as adversaries in the black freedom struggle. Malcolm X, who advocated a nationalist approach to equal rights for black people, often taunted King, criticizing him for subjugating blacks to their white oppressors and teaching them to be “defenseless in the face of one of the most cruel beasts that has ever taken a people into captivity.”

In one interview, Malcolm X dismissed King as “a 20th-century or modern Uncle Tom.”

King ignored the criticism. “We still advocate non-violence, passive resistance, and are still determined to use the weapon of love,” he had said earlier during a March 22, 1956, news conference in Montgomery. “We are still insisting emphatically that violence is self-defeating, that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”

Although the two men held what appeared to be diametrically opposing views on the struggle for equal rights, scholars say by the end of their lives their ideologies were evolving. King was becoming more militant in his views of economic justice for black people and more vocal in his criticism of the Vietnam War. Malcolm X, who had broken with the Nation of Islam, had dramatically changed his views on race during his 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca.

Eight months before their brief meeting on Capitol Hill, Malcolm X sent a letter to King, requesting a meeting. The letter was dated July 31, 1963. The return address was “MUHAMMAD’S MOSQUE NO. 7, 113 Lenox Avenue, New York 26, New York.”

Malcolm X opened the letter with the greeting “Dear Sir.” He called for a united front against racial oppression in the country.

“The present racial crisis in this country carries within it powerful destructive ingredients that may soon erupt into an uncontrollable explosion,” Malcolm X wrote. “The seriousness of this situation demands that immediate steps must be taken to solve this crucial problem, by those who have genuine concern before the racial powder keg explodes. A United Front involving all Negro factions, elements and their leaders is absolutely necessary.”

Malcolm X warned that a “racial explosion is more destructive than a nuclear explosion,” citing a recent meeting between President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

“Despite their tremendous ideological differences,” Malcolm X wrote, “it is a disgrace for Negro leaders not to be able to submerge our ‘minor’ differences in order to seek a common solution to a common problem posed by a Common Enemy.”

Malcolm X invited King to a rally that August in Harlem to analyze the race problem and a solution. He promised to moderate the meeting and guarantee courtesy for each speaker. He requested that if King could not attend to send a representative, closing the letter with an endearment: “Your Brother, Malcolm X.”

March 25, 1965

Day Five: Selma to Montgomery March Concludes With Martin Luther King's Speech on Steps of Alabama State Capitol - "How long? Not long!" – Civil Rights Volunteer Viola Liuzzo Murdered in Alabama While Shuttling Marchers Back to Selma

New York Times, March 26, 1965, reformatted for this post.
More than 20,000 civil rights marchers crowd Dexter Avenue in front of the Alabama state Capitol in Montgomery on March 25, 1965, as the Selma to Montgomery March comes to an end. Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of the Library of Congress
Short segment from “Our God is Marching On” –Martin Luther King's address at the conclusion of the Selma to Mongomery March, March 25, 1965, "How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, you shall reap what you sow… How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." From 5 of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most memorable speeches, PBS
Listen to the full speech - read Martin Luther King, Jr's Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March, March 25, 1965, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford
Viola Liuzzo was murdered in this car on an isolated Alabama highway while she participated in a voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, Getty Images, from The voting rights martyr who divided America, CNN
Excerpted below in whole from Civil Rights Volunteer Viola Liuzzo Murdered in Alabama,, March 15, 1965, Today in Civil Liberties History

Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights volunteer from Detroit, Michigan, was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members near Selma, Alabama, on this day.

She was a 39-year-old mother of five children who had been active in civil rights issues in Detroit. She had traveled to Selma to participate in the famous Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march (see the separate entry for this day: March 25, 1965). The FBI was complicit in her murder in at least two ways. FBI informant Gary Rowe was one of the four KKK members in the car from which the bullets were fired. He did nothing to stop the murder. And after her death, the FBI secretly leaked unflattering information about Liuzzo’s personal life, most of which was fabricated by the Bureau.

The trial of one of the assailants ended in a mistrial and a second trial ended in an acquittal. Three defendants (not including Rowe) were tried on federal charges of intimidating African-Americans under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, and convicted on December 3, 1965. Rowe was prosecuted in 1978, but the first trial ended in a mistrial and the second in an acquittal. Civil suits against the FBI for its involvement in the case were unsuccessful.

A monument to Viola Liuzzo stands in Lowndes County, Alabama.

Viola Liuzzo carries her shoes while walking with other civil rights activist before she was shot and killed in Alabama. Liuzzo-Prado says her mother walked barefoot whenever she could. "She just hated shoes." When her body was removed from the car she was shot in, she was barefoot. Courtesy of the Liuzzo family, from Killed For Taking Part In 'Everybody's Fight', NPR
Rosa Parks speaks at the , March 25, 1965,

March 24, 1965

Day Four: Marchers Reach Montgomery, All Treated to Evening of Song and Performance

American singer and activist Harry Belafonte sings a duet with singer Odetta Holmes (1930 - 2008) at the 'Stars for Freedom' rally, Montgomery, Alabama, March 24, 1965. The rally occurred on the last night of the historic Selma to Montgomery march in support of voter rights; the following day, 25,000 marchers, led by American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., arrived at the State Capitol Building and listened to King deliver his 'How Long, Not Long' speech. Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images
Excerpted below in whole from The "Stars for Freedom" Rally, March 24,1965, National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail

The "March to Montgomery" held the promise of fulfilling the hopes of many Americans who desired to witness the reality of freedom and liberty for all citizens. It was a movement which drew many luminaries of American society, including internationally-known performers and artists. In a drenching rain, on the fourth day, March 24th, carloads and busloads of participants joined the march as U.S. Highway 80 widened to four lanes, thus allowing a greater volume of participants than the court-imposed 300-person limitation when the roadway was narrower. There were many well-known celebrities among the more than 25,000 persons camped on the 36-acre grounds of the City of St. Jude, a Catholic social services complex which included a school, hospital, and other service facilities, located within the Washington Park neighborhood. This fourth campsite, situated on a rain-soaked playing field, held a flatbed trailer that served as a stage and a host of famous participants that provided the scene for an inspirational performance enjoyed by thousands on the dampened grounds. The event was organized and coordinated by the internationally acclaimed activist and screen star Harry Belafonte, on the evening of March 24, 1965.

Civil rights marchers carry flags and play the flute as they approach their goal of Montgomery, Alabama's state Capitol, on March 24, 1965 during their fourth day in the voter registration protest march. From left to right are, Dick Jackman, New York; Len Chandler, New York, playing the flute; Jim Letherer, Saginaw, Michigan, on crutches; and Louis Marshall, Selma, Alabama. AP Photo, from APImages, Selma 1965: Marches and Bloody Sunday violence led to Voting Rights Act
Coretta Scott King At 'Stars for Freedom' Rally - American Civil Rights leader Coretta Scott King (1927 - 2006) speaks at the 'Stars for Freedom' rally; her husband, Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968) (second left), along with singer and activist Harry Belafonte (right), stand behind her, Montgomery, Alabama, March 24, 1965. Photo by Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images
Sammy Davis Jr Performs At 'Stars for Freedom' Rally - American singer, actor, and entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. (1925 - 1990) (right) performs at the 'Stars for Freedom' rally, Montgomery, Alabama, March 24, 1965. Photo by Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

The night "the Stars" came out in Alabama

Mr. Belafonte had been an acquaintance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. since 1956. He later raised thousands of dollars in funding support for the Freedom Riders and to bailout many protesters incarcerated during the era, including Dr. King while in jail in Birmingham in 1963. Mr. Belafonte had also organized a similar "stars" performance for the 1963 "March on Washington" and now an impromptu event was held featuring many stars of stage, screen and artistic achievement. A partial list of celebrities included: Joan Baez, James Baldwin, Ina Balin, Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Leonard Bernstein, Sammy Davis, Jr., Billy Eckstein, Dick Gregory, Lena Home, Mahalia Jackson, Alan King, William Marshall, Johnny Mathis, Frankie Laine, Gary Merrill, Julius "Nipsey" Russelll, Pete Seeger, Nina Simone, Shelley Winters, Odetta, Purnell Roberts, and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Concert gives voice to Movement

Many of the widely heralded stars that appeared at St. Jude had also been present at the performance held at the Washington Monument in support of the "Freedom March on Washington" in 1963. Many of the well-known "freedom songs," such as "Oh, Freedom," were led by these artists and "A Change is Gonna' Come" by a group known as the "The SNCC Freedom Singers," which originally began as a quartet in Albany, Georgia in 1962. Speeches of inspiration were also delivered which, along with the musical participation, was to encourage the marchers to complete the final leg of their journey to the Alabama State Capitol. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressing the multitude of participants said, "We are about to engage in the greatest march that has ever been made on a state capitol in the South." The "Stars for Freedom Rally" became an unforgettable interlude on the historic march to Montgomery.

March 23, 1965

Day Three: Rainsoaked, Selma to Montgomery Marchers Half-Way to Montgomery, Alabama

Above: Page 1 and 33 of the New York Times, March 24, 1965, reformatted for this post.
Below: Excerpted in whole from Alabama March Passes Midpoint, The New York Times, March 24, 1965. Click link for full stories.


Sore Feet and High Spirits in Evidence at Camp

LOWNDESBORO, Ala., March 23 — The Alabama Freedom Marchers passed the halfway point of their 54-mile protest walk today with sore feet and high spirits.

They camped for the night in a rain-soaked pasture 21.7 miles from their destination, Montgomery, with 32.3 miles behind them. They expect to camp tomorrow night inside the city limits.

After a gala evening with two or three dozen well-known entertainers, the marchers will get up Thursday morning and, with thousands of well-wishers from around the country, walk the last 5 miles to the state capital. There they will try to present a petition for Negro rights to Gov. George C. Wallace, who will probably be absent.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who limped into camp with a blistered left foot last night, left today to make a speech in Cleveland after spending the night in Selma. He is to return tomorrow.

The marchers walked most of today in the rain, much of it torrential. When they arrived at camp, many of them threw themselves down, exhausted, under the four big tents. Others crowded around the portable heaters and dried their clothes.

Civil rights marchers stride along a rainy route 80 during their trek from Selma, Alabama to the State Capitol of Montgomery, about 25 miles away in their demonstration against voting rights in the state. Most of the marches wore rain gear, much of which was improvised at the start of hike on March 23, 1965 in Selma, Alabama. AP Photo, from APImages, Selma 1965: Marches and Bloody Sunday violence led to Voting Rights Act
In this March 23, 1965 file photo, civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala. walk past a trucker with a shotgun mounted in the cab along Route 80 during their march to the state capitol in Montgomery, Ala. Marchers' reactions ranged from apparent nervousness to laughs as the truck went by. An army helicopter, part of the force guarding marchers on the trek from Selma passes overhead. AP file photo, caption from The 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march,
Civil rights marchers reach the halfway mark in their 50-mile protest walk as they trudge along Route 80 in the rain from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., on March 23, 1965. This is the third day of the voter registration march, which will end with a mass rally near the Alabama state Capitol. AP Photo

March 22, 1965

Day Two: Selma to Montgomery Marchers Walk 16 More Miles Through Lowndes County, Alabama

Abovv: Page 1 of the New York Times, March 23, 1965, reformatted for this post.
Below: Excerpted in whole from Rights Marchers Push Into Region Called Hostile, The New York Times, March 23, 1965


Advance 16 Miles Through Alabama County Where Negro Voting Lags


Many Suffer From Blisters — Ranks Are Reduced for a Two-Lane Highway


TRICKEM, Ala., March 22 — Freedom marchers plodded 16 more miles through the sunny Alabama countryside today before stopping for the night in the heart of Lowndes County — which many Negroes regard as hostile territory.

On the second night out, 300 marchers bivouacked on a farm here after having completed 23 miles of their 54 mile walk from Selma to Montgomery. They are due in Montgomery, the state capital, on Thursday.

A court order had limited their number to 300 on the stretch of Two-lane highway in Lowndes County. The march started yesterday with 3,200 persons on the four-lane highway out of Selma.

The little band today was ringed by Army and National Guard troops and reassured by the presence of high federal officials, including Ramsey Clark, the Deputy Attorney General of the United States.

Lonesome Country

“We are not afraid," the walkers sang as they passed the county line at 12:13 P.M.

But Lowndes is lonesome country, and the marchers, if not afraid, are at least a little nervous.

The blacktop Jefferson Davis Highway narrows from four lanes to two shortly after it leaves Dallas County. It runs through rolling farm land that gives way regularly to marshes and small swaps.

The marchers have been warned to watch for the water moccasins that come up from the bog and sun themselves on the road.

But what the marchers are really watching for are embittered white men, the kind who flew a small plane over the march this morning and threw out leaflets advertising: “Operation Ban — selective hiring, firing, buying, selling — and unemployed agitator ceases to agitate."

In this on March 22, 1965 file photo, participants in first leg of the 50-mile march from Selma, Ala. to the Alabama state capitol at Montgomery, Ala., warm themselves around a fire in an oil drum at the first night's camp in Selma. The marchers, protesting voting laws in the state, walked along Route 80 for approximately seven miles before making camp for the night.. AP file photo, caption from The 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march,
In this March 22, 1965 file photo, New York Post Writer David Murray walks with civil rights marchers about ten miles from Selma, Ala. on their 50-mile walk to the state capital in Montgomery, Ala. to protest voting laws in Alabama. AP file photo, caption from The 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march,
In this March 22, 1965 file photo, a boy waves from a porch as marchers led by Dr. Martin Luther King leave their camp near Selma, Ala., to resume their voters rights protest march headed to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama.. AP file photo, caption from The 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march,

‘Confederate Air Force’

The leaflets, signed by White Citizens Action, Inc., of Tuscaloosa, said the message had been brought by the “Confederate Air Force."

The marchers know that until last week no Negro had been registered to vote in Lowndes County, even though 80 per cent of its population is Negro. Last week 12 persons were enrolled.

“Not a single Negro in Lowndes county had even tried to register in the last 65 years until two weeks ago," said the Rev. Andrew Young, executive assistant to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as he and Dr. King lead the group out of Dallas County.

March 21, 1965

3,000+ Begin Third And Successful March from Selma to Montgomery After 2-Weeks of Violence and Political Maneuvering

March leaders (wearing leis) prepare to leave Selma at the start of the third march. From left to right: John Lewis, a nun, Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King, Ralph Bunche, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, March 21, 1965. Matt Herron / TakeStock
Abovv: Page 1 of the New York Times, March 22, 1965, reformatted for this post.
Below: Excerpted in whole from Freedom March Begins at Selma, The New York Times, March 22, 1965



3,200 Take Part in Protest as 54-Mile Rights Walk to Montgomery Starts


Envisions 'a New Alabama' and 'a New America' — Crowd's Mood Festive

SELMA, Ala., March 21 — Backed by the armed might of the United States, 3,200 persons marched out of Selma today on the first leg of a historic venture in nonviolent protest.

The marchers, or at least many of them, are on their way to the state capital at Montgomery to submit a petition for Negro rights Thursday to Gov. George C.Wallace, a man with a little sympathy for their cause.

Today was the third attempt for the Alabama freedom march. On the first two, the marchers were stopped by state troopers, the first time with tear gas and clubs.

The troopers were on hand today, but they limited themselves to helping federal troops handle traffic on U.S. Highway 80 as the marchers left Selma.

Spectators Welcome Marchers, March 21, 1965, Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights. Matt Herron / TakeStock
Marchers walk past a young white man holding a Confederate flag, March 21, 1965. Bettmann Archive
Marchers carry a US flag upside down, March 21, 1965. Bettmann Archive

Soldiers Line Highway

Hundreds of army and federalized National Guard troops stood guard in Selma and lined the highway out of town to protect the marchers. The troops were sent by President Johnson after Governor Wallace said that Alabama could not afford the expense of protecting the march.

The marchers were in festive humor as they started. The tone was set by the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, top aid to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as he introduced Dr. King for the address before the march started.

"When we get to Montgomery," Mr. Abernathy said, "We are going to go up to Governor Wallace's door and say, "George, it's all over now. We've got the ballot."

The throng laughed and cheered.

Access full story, Freedom March Begins at Selma, The New York Times, March 22, 1965.
Singing and marching in the rain, folk singer, Len Chandler, unidentified man, SCLC leaders Andrew Young, and James Bevel (extreme right) head for Montgomery, Selma to Montgomery March for voting right, March 21, 1965. Matt Herron / TakeStock
Photo and caption by Spider Martin: "Marching up Highway 80 under the protection of the U.S. Army. Sharpshooters were stationed in those houses on the horizon and some were behind me. It was wet on this day, but the singing of 'We Shall Overcome' kept up everyone's spirits." March 21, 1965. From Selma's "Bloody Sunday:" A look back, CBS News.
Recently rediscovered film made during the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights. By Stefan Sharff

March 20, 1965

President Johnson Orders National Guard to Protect Marchers on New Selma to Montgomery March to Begin the Next Day

The Birmingham News, March 20, 1965

On March 20, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson notifies Alabama’s Governor George Wallace that he will use federal authority to call up the Alabama National Guard in order to supervise a planned civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

Intimidation and discrimination had earlier prevented Selma’s Black population–over half the city–from registering and voting. On Sunday, March 7, 1965, a group of 600 demonstrators marched on the capital city of Montgomery to protest this disenfranchisement and the earlier killing of a Black man, Jimmie Lee Jackson, by a state trooper.

In brutal scenes that were later broadcast on television, state and local police attacked the marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. TV viewers far and wide were outraged by the images, and a protest march was organized just two days after “Bloody Sunday” by Martin Luther King, Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King turned the marchers around, however, rather than carry out the march without federal judicial approval.

After an Alabama federal judge ruled on March 18 that a third march could go ahead, President Johnson and his advisers worked quickly to find a way to ensure the safety of King and his demonstrators on their way from Selma to Montgomery. The most powerful obstacle in their way was Governor Wallace, an outspoken segregationist who was reluctant to spend any state funds on protecting the demonstrators. Hours after promising Johnson—in telephone calls recorded by the White House—that he would call out the Alabama National Guard to maintain order, Wallace went on television and demanded that Johnson send in federal troops instead.

Furious, Johnson told Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to write a press release stating that because Wallace refused to use the 10,000 available guardsmen to preserve order in his state, Johnson himself was calling the guard up and giving them all necessary support. Several days later, 50,000 marchers followed King some 54 miles, under the watchful eyes of state and federal troops.
Video of the March 20, 1965 Press Conference at the LBJ Ranch, edited for this post to retain only the elements related to the Alabama civil rights actions. PRESIDENTIAL SPEECHES | LYNDON B. JOHNSON PRESIDENCY,The Miller Center, University of Virginia. Access the full transcript.
Text of the telegram sent by President Johnson to Governor Wallace on March 20, 1965

Arriving safely in Montgomery on March 25, they watched King deliver his famous “How Long, Not Long” speech from the steps of the Capitol building. The clash between Johnson and Wallace—and Johnson’s decisive action—was an important turning point in the civil rights movement. Within five months, Congress had passed the Voting Rights Act, which Johnson proudly signed into law on August 6, 1965.

March 19, 1965

LIFE Magazine Publishes "The Savage Season Begins – Civil rights face-off at Selma" Just Days Before the Successful Selma to Montgomery March

Images from LIFE Magazine, March 19, 1965, as found via Google Books

March 18, 1965

Governor Wallace and President Johnson Spar Over National Guard Protection for Marchers – Alabama Legislature Declares Marchers "Asinine and Ridiculous"

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lower left, and several thousand demonstrators gathered at the county courthouse on March 18, 1965, in Montgomery, Ala. The marchers waited in the rain for several hours while Dr. King met with officials in the courthouse. Associated Press, taken from From the Archives: Where’s the Spirit of Selma Now?, Gay Talese, New York Times, March 6, 2015
Excerpted in whole from Johnson Offers to Call Up Guard If Wallace Won't, New York Times, March 19, 1965

Johnson Offers to Call Up Guard If Wallace Won't
Rejects Governor's Bid for U.S. 'Civilian Forces' to Protect Rights March

WASHINGTON, March 18 -President Johnson offered tonight to mobilize the Alabama National Guard to protect the Selma-to-Montgomery marchers next week.

In rejecting a request by Gov. George C. Wallace for "federal civilian forces" to police the demonstration, the president pointed out that the governor could mobilize the guard if he felt such protection was needed.

He then said that if the governor did not do so, and conditions warranted, he would call up the Guard himself.

In Montgomery, Governor George Wallace told a joint session of the Alabama legislature of his request to President Johnson. After he spoke, the legislature adopted a resolution calling the protest march "asinine and ridiculous."

Read continuation, Johnson Offers to Call Up Guard If Wallace Won't, New York Times, March 19, 1965
Alabama Governor George Wallace warns of "communist-trained" civil rights demonstrators in this March 18, 1965 address before the Alabama State Legislature, ABC News, 9/10/14.
Image from page 21, New York Times, March 19, 1965

March 17, 1965

3000 Continue to Protest at the Montgomery Courthouse While Judge Johnson Paves Way for a Renewed Selma to Montgomery March 3-Days Later

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uses a megaphone to address demonstrators assembled at the courthouse in Montgomery, Ala. after a meeting with Sheriff Mac Butler, left, and other public officials, March 17, 1965.(AP file photo
Excerpted in whole from “How Long, Not Long”: Selma To Montgomery, Encyclopedia Britannica

On March 17, after several days of testimony, Judge George Johnson, Jr. ruled in favour of the protestors, saying,

The law is clear that the right to petition one’s government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups…and these rights may be exercised by marching, even along public highways.

Under the terms of the ruling, an unlimited number of people would be permitted to begin and finish the march (which was required to be completed in five days), but only 300 marchers were to be allowed to cover the 22-mile (35-km) two-lane portion of U.S. Highway 80 that passed through Lowndes county.

In the days before the start of the renewed march, Governor Wallace indicated (or at least implied) in a phone call with President Johnson that the Alabama National Guard would protect the marchers. Then, addressing the state legislature, the governor announced that he expected the federal government to “provide for the safety and welfare of the so-called demonstrators.” Ultimately, Wallace sent a telegram to the president saying that Alabama could not afford to provide protection for the marchers and asking the federal government to do so. On March 20 a furious President Johnson responded by federalizing the command of elements of the Alabama National Guard and dispatching the U.S. Army.

On March 21 King led marchers (estimates of their number vary but generally fall between 3,000 and 8,000) out of Selma, over the Pettus Bridge, and on the road to Montgomery. En route protection was provided by more than 1,800 Alabama National Guardsmen and about 2,000 soldiers, as well as federal marshals and FBI agents. The marchers, whose numbers swelled to about 25,000 along the way, covered the roughly 50 miles (80 km) to Montgomery in five days, arriving at the state capital on March 25.

____________________________Also, read about Judge Frank Minnis Johnson, Jr., who journalist and historian Bill Moyer claimed "altered forever the face of the South."
Martin Luther King in Montgomery, Alabama, 1965 March 17, Jack Rabin Collection on Alabama Civil Rights and Southern Activists, 1941-2004, Penn State University Libraries
Marchers on the move for voting rights and justice, 3/17/1965, Montgomery, AL; Glen Pearcy collection (afc2012040_053_19.jpg)
Montgomery County Courthouse, March, 1965 March 17, Jack Rabin Collection on Alabama Civil Rights and Southern Activists, 1941-2004, Penn State University Libraries
Protest gathering in Montgomery, Alabama, 1965 March 17, Jack Rabin Collection on Alabama Civil Rights and Southern Activists, 1941-2004, Penn State University Libraries
Martin Luther King Jr. leading a procession of people past the Alabama State Capitol to demonstrate against police treatment of voter rights demonstrators, Montgomery, Alabama, March 17, 1965.
March 17, 1965, thousands of demonstrators march to the Montgomery, Alabama courthouse behind Martin Luther King, Jr. to protest treatment of demonstrators by police during and attempted march. At foreground center in white shirt is Andrew Young. Selma: Photos of famed march, Jackson Sun, AP photo

March 16, 1965

Protesters Attacked By Police in Atlanta and Montgomery, Alabama; Martin Luther King Calls for a March on Montgomery

Surrounded by fellow demonstrators, Juniata College senior and student organizer Harriet Richardson (right) assists Juniata lecturer and poet-in-residence (and later Pulitzer Prize winner) Galway Kinnell (1927 - 2014), who had been hit with a state trooper's billy club, Montgomery, Alabama, March 16, 1965. Along with others from the college, the pair had traveled from Pennsylvania to participate in the Selma to Montgomery March lead by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Photo by Charles Moore, caption excerpted in whole from Getty Images
Excerpted in whole from Police Rout 600 in Montgomery; 8 Marchers Hurt, New York Times, March 17, 1965.

MONTGOMERY, Ala., March 16 -- About 15 state and county policemen, some flailing with nightsticks and ropes, rode horses into 600 civil rights demonstrators here today and sent the demonstrators screaming down a residential street.

Eight persons were injured, including David Hope, 38 years old, a white English teacher from Janita College at Huntington, PA. He suffered scalp cuts.

The police tactics in this Alabama capital so embarrassed local law-enforcement officials that they apologized publicly attributing the clash to a “mixup.”

1200 persons crowded into a Negro church tonight to protest the violence.

Dr. King Asks March

Dr. King, arriving here from Selma, called for an all out protest march on the courthouse tomorrow. James Foreman, executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee made an appeal for a massive civil disobedience campaign to tie up transportation in Washington Thursday to force federal action in Alabama.

After the mass meeting, 35 ministers marched half a mile to the capital and held a prayer vigil against the backdrop of 52 state troopers with riot helmets at night sticks

Montgomery sheriffs on horseback trample voting rights marchers near the state Capitol, 03/16/1965, Montgomery, AL; Glen Pearcy Collection, Library of Congress
(l-r) James Forman (SNCC), James Bevel (SCLC) and marchers in the aftermath of the attack in Montgomery, Alabama, 3/16/1965, Glen Pearcy Collection, Library of Congress
Martin Luther King at the evening rally at Beulah Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, 3/16/1965, Glen Pearcy Collection, Library of Congress
In Atlanta, Georgia, students from the historically African American Atlanta University Center picketed the federal courthouse in sympathy to the civil rights workers in Selma and asked for sheriff Jim Clark's arrest as well as federal troops to protect civil rights workers. On March 16 in Atlanta a crowd of between one thousand and three thousand marched downtown again seeking action in Selma from the federal government.
In this WSB newsfilm clip from Atlanta, Georgia on March 16, 1965, civil rights demonstrators march from Ebenezer Baptist Church and from Atlanta University Center to the federal courthouse to protest alleged police brutality in Selma, Alabama.

March 15, 1965

Sparked By Events in Selma, President Johnson Delivers "The American Promise" – Declaring "We shall overcome" and Promising a Voting Rights Act

President Johnson addresses a joint session of Congress on March 15, 1965, to outline his proposals for voting rights for all citizens. (AP)
Excerpted below in whole from "We . . . Shall . . . Overcome”: LBJ Gives Historic Voting Rights Speech,, March 15, 1965, Today in Civil Liberties History

President Lyndon Johnson on this day delivered his Voting Rights speech to Congress, entitled “The American Promise.” The speech is widely regarded as one of the greatest presidential speeches in American history because of the way LBJ framed the current crisis over voting rights in terms of the deepest values of American society. LBJ embraced the slogan of the Civil Rights Movement, “We … Shall … Overcome.”

The speech came one week after “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, when Alabama police blocked the famous voting rights march, from Selma to Montgomery, by brutally beating the marchers. On March 21, 1965, the march resumed and reached Montgomery, Alabama, on March 25, 1965.

President Johnson signed the historic Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965.

LBJ: “I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy. I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.”

March 14, 1965

15,000 March Through Harlem As Protests Against Selma Violence Continues Throughout the Nation

Excerpted in part from 15,000 March Through Harlem to Protest the Racial Strife in Selm,, March 15, 1965, The New York Times. Click link to access full story.

By Philip Benjamin

Fifteen thousand persons, including nuns, priests, ministers, rabbis, members of civil rights organizations, trade unionists and students, marched through Harlem yesterday to protest the events last week in Selma, Ala. After the parade — silent and Grimm — civil rights leaders called for federal intervention in Selma, which is in the throes of a campaign for Negro voter registration. Two men, one Negro, one white, have been killed in the area during the registration campaign. Speakers also called on the 49 other states to read Alabama out of the union, in effect, by imposing a moral, social and economic boycott against the state.

The parade begin at 3:30 PM at the Teresa Hotel, at 125th Street and Seventh Avenue. In the van of the march were Bayard Rustin, organizer of the March on Washington in 1963; John Lewis and James Forman, leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; James McCain, director of organization for the Congress of Racial Equality, and Nathan H. Schwerner, father of Michael Schwerner, one of the three civil rights workers murdered in Philadelphia, Miss. last year.

Behind them were 200 nuns of the order of the Sisters Charity. They wore black habits. There was also a small group of Maryknoll sisters in gray habits, Some of them were CORE buttons.

Many of the marchers wore black arm bands in memory of the Rev. James J. Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from Boston who was beaten fatally in Selma last week, and in memory of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a Negro who was killed Feb. 18 during an attack by the Alabama state police on a night march in Marion.

Nuns of the order of the Sisters Charity join New York City protests. From new york city photography by winston vargas
Protesters at the March 15, 1965 New York City marh. From new york city photography by winston vargas
Clipping from Wallace To Bar A Rights March Till Court Acts,, March 15, 1965, page 23, The New York Times. Reformatted for this post.
Clipping from Protests Spread Over the Nation,, March 15, 1965, page 23, The New York Times. Reformatted for this post.

March 13, 1965

Protests Continue in Selma, Alabama as Nuns and Priests Join Attempts to Break Through Police Lines

Three unidentified nuns from the Queen of the World Hospital, Kansas City cross arms and sing freedom songs with demonstrators in Selma, Alabama, March 13, 1965. (AP Photo)
Excerpted in part from Police Blockades Stormed in Selma, March 14, The New York Times. Click link to access full story.

Clerics and Nuns Join Push — 20 of 1,000 Protesters Break Through Briefly

SELMA, Ala., March 13 — Civil rights demonstrators, including ministers and nuns, tried to break through police blockades today, setting off a riotous disturbance that lasted more than an hour.

The outburst occured within a one-block area of the Negro section after President Johnson said in Washington that Negroes seeking to register and vote should be permitted to conduct lawful demonstrations. It involved about 1,000 demonstrators and 200 officers.

At least one person was injured and scores were pushed back by state troopers with nightsticks. The troopers’ actions were restrained, however, compared with those of last Sunday, when a highway demonstration was broken up with nightsticks and tear gas.

A group of about 20 Negroes and whites broke through the blockades today and reached the Dallas County Courthouse. They were shoved back by Sheriff James G. Clark Jr.’s postmen.

Wilson Baker, Semla’s Directo of Public Safety, arrived on the scene, disperse a white mob that was threatening the demonstrators and escorted them back to safety.

Earlier in the afternoon, demonstrators who tried to push through a police line were turned back after President Johnson's remarks on the civil rights issue were broadcast to the crowd.

The demonstrators regrouped and the Rev. C.T. Vivian, and Assistant to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said state and city authorities should "follow the presidents moral leader ship and let us through."

Policemen hold back demonstrators, who started off in all directions, in an attempt to march to the court house, March 13, 1965, Selma, Ala. (AP Photo)
State police stand firm with their billy clubs against demonstrators who attempted to break through their lines for a march on the courthouse in Selma, Ala., March 13, 1965. (AP Photo from Selma 1965: Marches and Bloody Sunday violence led to Voting Rights Act
Several clergymen stand at a rope barricade and sing freedom songs with demonstrators at Selma, Alabama, March 13, 1965. The rope, called a “Berlin rope” by the demonstrators later was taken down by the public safety director. (AP Photo)

March 13, 1965

2500 March in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in Solidarity With Civil Rights Protesters in Selma

Civil rights demonstrators converge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the County Courthouse in solidarity with the activists in Selma. on March 13, 1965. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Archives

Milwaukee civil rights demonstrators marched to protest police actions in Selma, Alabama that took place on March 7, 1965. The protest in Milwaukee was organized on March 13, 1965. About 2, 500 people marched from the headquarters of CORE to the Milwaukee County Courthouse. Some participants in the protest wore Yellow Armbands as a form of symbolic speech in the fight for equality in and desegregation of education and its institutions; as first symbolically demonstrated by federal marshals escorting African American children into the newly integrated New Orleans elementary schools, following Plessy vs. Ferguson.

Similar demonstrations occurred in cities across America and two days later President Lyndon Johnson convened a joint session of Congress to advocate for passage of the Voting Rights Act.

A Milwaukee police officer forces Cecil Brown back to a Wisconsin Avenue sidewalk to rejoin other marchers, March 13, 1965. Brown was one of the organizers of a rally on the courthouse steps to honor Unitarian Universalist Rev. James J. Reeb of Boston who was killed in Selma, Ala., After the rally the demonstrators marched to the Federal Building for a vigil. There were no arrests. Police estimated the crowd at 2,600. AP Photo/Charles Knoblock, from St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Milwaukee civil rights demonstrators marched to protest police actions in Selma, Alabama that took place on March 7, 1965. The protest in Milwaukee was organized on March 13, 1965. About 2, 500 people marched from the headquarters of CORE to the Milwaukee County Courthouse. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries
Milwaukee civil rights demonstrators on March 13, 1965.

March 12, 1956

Over 3/4 of Southern Congressmen Sign the Southern Manifesto Declaring Opposition to School Integration

Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia, leader of the Congressional movement in opposition to racial integration.

By March 12, 1956, Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia convinced 101 of the 128 congressmen representing the 11 states of the old Confederacy to sign "The Southern Manifesto on Integration." In total, 19 Senators and 82 Representatives—almost one-fifth of Congress—signed their name and declared their opposition to integration. The document claimed that the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared racially segregated public education unconstitutional, constituted an abuse of power in violation of federal law.

The manifesto accused the Court of jeopardizing the social justice of white people and "their habits, traditions, and way of life," and claimed that the Brown ruling would "[destroy] the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races." The time period they referenced was in fact an era characterized by racial terror and a Jim Crow legal caste system that had targeted Black Americans for violence and inequality since the end of Reconstruction.

Eight southern states—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia—enacted their own versions of the Southern Manifesto. Called "interposition resolutions," these statements tried to elevate the state's legal interpretation over that of the Supreme Court. These states also used legislative acts and voter referenda to enact tuition grant statutes that authorized state governments to fund privately-run schools in order to preserve racially segregated education.

Learn more about how a campaign of massive resistance to integration by white politicians and the broader white community succeeded in keeping schools segregated for years after the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Crowd protests the admission of Black students to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1959. John T Bledsoe, Getty Images

Key quotes

  • "The unwarranted decision of the Supreme Court in the public school cases is now bearing the fruit always produced when men substitute naked power for established law."
  • "The original Constitution does not mention education. Neither does the 14th Amendment nor any other amendment. The debates preceding the submission of the 14th Amendment clearly show that there was no intent that it should affect the system of education maintained by the States."
  • "This unwarranted exercise of power by the Court, contrary to the Constitution, is creating chaos and confusion in the States principally affected. It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding."

March 11, 1965

Rev. James Reeb Dies After Brutal Beating in Selma, Alabama

March 10, 1965: Deputy U.S. marshal, right, speaks to group of demonstrators who are lying across a parking lot entrance to L.A.'s Federal Building. Ray Graham / Los Angeles Times
Excerpted in whole from Reeb, James Biography January 1, 1927 to March 11, 1965, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.

James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister, became nationally known as a martyr to the civil rights cause when he died on 11 March 1965, in Selma, Alabama, after being attacked by a group of white supremacists. Reeb had traveled to Selma to answer Martin Luther King’s call for clergy to support the nonviolent protest movement for voting rights there. Delivering Reeb’s eulogy, King called him “a shining example of manhood at its best.”

Reeb was born on New Year’s Day 1927, in Wichita, Kansas. He was raised in Kansas and Casper, Wyoming. After a tour of duty in the Army at the end of World War II, Reeb became a minister, graduating first from a Lutheran college in Minnesota, and then from Princeton Theological Seminary in June 1953. Although ordained a Presbyterian minister, Reeb transferred to the Unitarian Church and became assistant minister at All Souls Church in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1959. In September 1963 Reeb moved to Boston to work for the American Friends Service Committee. He bought a home in a slum neighborhood and enrolled his children in the local public schools, where many of the children were black.

On 7 March 1965, Reeb and his wife watched television news coverage of police attacking demonstrators in Selma as they attempted to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” The following day, King sent out a call to clergy around the country to join him in Selma in a second attempt at a Selma to Montgomery March that Tuesday, 9 March. Reeb heard about King’s request from the regional office of the Unitarian Universalist Association on the morning of 8 March, and was on a plane heading south that evening.

As Reeb was flying toward Selma, King was considering whether to disobey a pending court order against the Tuesday march to Montgomery. In the end he decided to march, telling the hundreds of clergy who had gathered at Brown’s Chapel, “I would rather die on the highways of Alabama, than make a butchery of my conscience” (King, 9 March 1965). King led the group of marchers to the far side of the bridge, then stopped and asked them to kneel and pray. After prayers, they rose and retreated back across the bridge to Brown’s Chapel, avoiding a violent confrontation with state troopers and skirting the issue of whether or not to obey the court order.

Several clergy decided to return home after this symbolic demonstration. Reeb, however, decided to stay in Selma until court permission could be obtained for a full scale march, planned for the coming Thursday.

Monument for Reeb in Selma, Alabama

That evening, Reeb and two other white Unitarians dined at an integrated restaurant. Afterward they were attacked by several white men and Reeb was clubbed on the head. Several hours elapsed before Reeb was admitted to a Birmingham hospital where doctors performed brain surgery. While Reeb was on his way to the hospital in Birmingham, King addressed a press conference lamenting the “cowardly” attack and asking all to pray for his protection . Reeb died two days later.

Reeb’s death provoked mourning throughout the country, and tens of thousands held vigils in his honor. President Lyndon B. Johnson called Reeb’s widow and father to express his condolences, and on 15 March he invoked Reeb’s memory when he delivered a draft of the Voting Rights Act to Congress. That same day King eulogized Reeb at a ceremony at Brown’s Chapel in Selma. “James Reeb,” King told the audience, “symbolizes the forces of good will in our nation. He demonstrated the conscience of the nation. He was an attorney for the defense of the innocent in the court of world opinion. He was a witness to the truth that men of different races and classes might live, eat, and work together as brothers.”

In April 1965 three white men were indicted for Reeb’s murder; they were acquitted that December. The Voting Rights Act was passed on 6 August 1965.

March 10, 1965

1,000 Protest Selma Violence in Montgomery and Throughout the Country

March 10, 1965: Deputy U.S. marshal, right, speaks to group of demonstrators who are lying across a parking lot entrance to L.A.'s Federal Building. Ray Graham / Los Angeles Times
Sr. Antona Ebo delivers a statement after police halted a march to the country courthouse in Selma March 10, 1965, AP Images/Bettmann Corbis
Another March in Selma: Civil rights demonstrators led by members of clergy, including six nuns from St. Louis, walking in the Alabama town yesterday. The march was stopped less than a block from where it began. New York Times, March 11, 1965. AP photo.
From The New York Times, March 11, 1965, pages 1 & 20, reformatted to fit this post.

March 9, 1965

"Turn-Around Tuesday" – Martin Luther King Leads 2nd Failed March Attempt and Rev. James Reeb Murdered in Selma, Alabama

A federal marshal reads a court order halting a planned voter registration protest march at Selma, Alabama, March 9, 1965. The order was read after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led about 2,000 persons from a church to a bridge over the Alabama River. AP
Excerpted in whole from 'Turn-Around Tuesday' in Selma March Negotiations, from This Day in Civil Rights History, Williams and Beard, page 83.

On this day in civil rights history, a second Selma-to- Montgornery march began, this time ending without violence but being labeled "Turnaround Tuesday as a condemnation of what many activists saw as a failure of civil rights leaders to respond to earlier events.

After "Bloody Sunday" took place March 7, Martin Luther King Jr. and many other civil rights leaders and activists returned to Selma, calling for the blocked march to be resumed. In Montgomery, U.S. District Judge Frank M. Johnson, well-known for his decisions favoring civil rights, issued an order blocking further marching pending a hearing.

King and the other leaders argued over the course of action. The march had already been announced and the protesters had momentum thanks to the March 7 attack by Sheriff Clark and his posse. But King had yet to defy a federal court order, as he and the movement generally saw the federal government as their greatest protector.

A compromise was worked out. King led marchers to the same spot where Lewis and the other had been attacked, and then they all knelt in prayer. Meanwhile, the trooper who were waiting in the same spot opened their ranks, taunting the marchers with an open path. But King turned back and led the protesters back across the bridge to safety. Many activists felt betrayed by King actions, including many within SNCC.

Segment focusing on the aftermath of Bloody Sunday events on March 9, 1965. From Eyes on the Prize, Bridge to Freedom (1965), PBS, 11min
Protesters kneel in prayer before returning to Brown Chapel on March 9, 1965.
Students at R.B. Hudson High boycott classes to join the second march, Tuesday March 9, 1965

In response, a group of Tuskegee Institute students staged a sit-in on the capitol steps, protesting both segregation and King's inaction. The student stayed in th street until rain forced them inside.

But the day's event were not over. That evening, James Reeb, a white minister from Boston who had responded to th March 7th news coverage and had traveled to Selma to take part inthe march, was attacked after eating dinner at an integrated resaurant. Walking pa st the Silver Moon Café, Reeb was accosted by four white males who clubbed him in the head with a pipe.He was transported to a hospital but fell into a coma and died two days later. His death shocked the nation further and was one of the catalysts to President Lyndon B. Johnson shepherding the Voting Rights Act through Congress.

Reverend James Reeb, Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Listen to short segment from Rev. James Reeb's final recorded sermon at All Souls Church in Washington, DC, July, 1965. From NPR's 7-part series, White Lies, that explores the death of Reeb and the search for the full story.
See White Lies, NPR story that delves deeper into the killing of James Reeb.
Bruce Hartford, SCLC activist, recounts his arrival in Selma just after Bloody Sunday and advice from local Blacks about dangerous areas of the city for white activists. Short segment from a series of interviews with Bruce Hartford conducted by students in the Oral History Production of the Civil Rights Movement class, April 30, 2020.

March 8, 1965

The Country Wakes Up to Attacks in Selma as Leaders in Alabama Plan a Second Attempt

The New and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, March 8, 1965
The New York Times, March 8, 1965
The Washington Post, March 8, 1965
Chicago Daily Defender, March 8, 1965
Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1965

March 7, 1965

Bloody Sunday – Peaceful Marchers Brutally Attacked Crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama

Future Congressman John Lewis. being attached by police in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965.
Excerpted in whole from Bloody Sunday: Civil Rights Activists Brutally Attacked in Selma, Equal Justice Initiative

On March 7, 1965, state and local police used billy clubs, whips, and tear gas to attack hundreds of civil rights activists beginning a march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capitol in Montgomery. The activists were protesting the denial of voting rights to African Americans as well as the murder of 26-year-old activist Jimmie Lee Jackson, who had been fatally shot in the stomach by police during a peaceful protest just days before. (See below, March 3, 1965, Funeral for Activist Jimmy Lee Jackson in Marion, Alabama Leads to the Selma-to-Montgomery March 21 Days Later.)

The march was led by John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Reverend Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge and found themselves facing a line of state and county officers poised to attack. When demonstrators did not promptly obey the officers' order to disband and turn back, troopers brutally attacked them on horseback, wielding weapons and chasing down fleeing men, women, and children. Dozens of civil rights activists were later hospitalized with severe injuries.

Horrifying images of the violence were broadcast on national television, shocking many viewers and helping to rouse support for the civil rights cause. Activists organized another march two days later, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urged supporters from throughout the country to come to Selma to join. Many heeded his call, and the events helped spur passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 three months later.

Segment focusing on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. From Eyes on the Prize, Bridge to Freedom (1965), PBS, 11min
Amelia Boynton Robinson is held by a civil rights marcher after beaten and exposed to tear gas by Alabama State Troopers in Selma. Bettmann Archive, on These Harrowing Pictures Capture The Reality Of "Bloody Sunday" In 1965, BuzzFeed
Selma 50 years later: Remembering Bloody Sunday, Los Angeles Times, Mar 6, 2015. Focuses on memories of Amelia Boynton Robinson, then a middle-aged black woman, was tear-gassed and beaten and slumped unconscious on the side of the road. The troopers attacked the marchers in events that became known as "Bloody Sunday." From Bloody Sunday: Civil Rights Activists Brutally Attacked in Selma, Equal Justice Initiative.

March 6, 1965

Tensions Build in Selma 1 Day Prior to Planned March to Montgomery – Governor Wallace Orders "Use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march"

A group of about 50 whites marched on Selma, Ala. court house on March 6, 1965 displaying signs in sympathy with African American voter registration demonstrations. The African Americans have been protesting for the last 7 weeks in Dallas and surrounding counties against registration practices. The group of whites called themselves the “concerned white citizens of Alabama. (AP Photo) From 50th Anniversary of the Selma Marches, March 6, 2015, Athens Banner-Herald
Selected parts below excerpted from SNCC report, Selma, Alabama Silas Norman & John Love (Early March, 1965), Civil Rights Movement Archive.

Negroes still can't register to vote in any significant numbers in Selma, but we have gotten somewhere. As a result of the recent demonstrations federal District Court Judge Thomas ordered that Negroes who wished to register must first sign an "appearance book," and that all those who had signed this book would have to be processed by July.

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. But in any case Judge Thomas's order says that all those who have signed the appearance book (over 3,000 people) must be processed by July.

There are some things about Selma that make it easier to work than some of the more rural areas. For one thing, Selma wants to attract industry from the North and elsewhere, and so it cares about its public image.

For another thing, white folks won't come to town and shop when demonstrations are going on; so we can hurt Selma economically that way.

Thirdly, a boycott can be effective. One began a few weeks ago that has already been effective, from what we hear from information sources in the white community. The local people started this boycott — individually and spontaneously — when they saw some of the merchants they buy from on the Sheriff's posse, and they got mad about that. The boycott is being organized by the Negro businessmen. The Negro community is setting up its own store, and is arranging motorcades to Montgomery to buy things they can't provide for themselves in Selma. We think that the boycott will lead to violence, eventually. It may spread across the state, and if it does we can really put the economic squeeze on the state of Alabama.

Gathering at the Dallas County Courthouse in Selma, Alabama, March 6, 1965. That same day, "the Reverend Joseph Ellwanger, a liberal Birmingham Lutheran minister, led a group of sixty white Alabamians in a march to the Dallas County courthouse to show their support for the black cause. . . . Only police intervention at the last minute prevented a furious crowd of 500 whites from attacking the integrationists." Dividing Lines: Municipal Politics and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, p. 487. Photo: Penn State University Libraries
On March 6, 1965 Alabama Gov. George Wallace declared "There will be no march between Selma and Montgomery," and that he had ordered the highway patrol to "use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march." UPI File Photo. UPI Almanac for Monday, March 6, 2017
First of 3 pages from SNCC report, Selma, Alabama Silas Norman & John Love (Early March, 1965), Civil Rights Movement Archive,

Fourthly, jail space is limited in Selma, and feeding prisoners is expensive.

A fifth thing that may help us, not only in Selma, but all over the state, is that President Johnson may be a little bit cool toward Gov. Wallace, who refused to support him in the last election.

One of the strongest forces operating against us in Selma is Sheriff Clark and his posse of about 300 men. Clark's brutality has been shown in many incidents, the most notable to date being the forced march in which people were driven out of Selma and into the country by possemen armed with cattleprods.

One final note on our future plans. On March 15 there will be a convention of students from Tuskegee, Miles and Stillman Colleges. We hope to use these students to mobilize the local people for a Peoples' Conference to be held sometime around the end of March to mid-April. At this People's Conference future programs for the state will be decided.

March 5, 1964

10,000 March in Frankfort, Kentucky as Peter, Paul & Mary Sing "Blowing in the Wind"

Jackie Robinson with Dr. Martin Luther King, March 5 1964. Bill Strode, The Courier-Journal from 1964 March on Frankfort, March 14, 2014.
Excerpted in part from The Day Pastor King came ‘blowin’ in the wind’, Roger Barlow, from Frank. Magazine, Jan 16, 2018

Thursday, March 5, 1964, began as a typical Kentucky day, but it was also atypical in that it was the day of the march on Frankfort. At its end, the seeds of justice had been planted, and with the warmth of solidarity, the march would eventually sprout the Kentucky Civil Rights Act of 1966.

The March on Frankfort was a monumental effort, organized in part, by future Senator Georgia Davis Powers, the powerhouse of Kentucky equality. In 1968, Powers herself made history by becoming the first female and person of color elected to the Kentucky Senate.

The historic call to March on Frankfort was answered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, noted for breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, the troubadours of social activism.

Over 10,000 others joined the effort to come to Kentucky, deliver a petition to Gov. Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt, and walk for something many of us now take for granted — equal rights in public accommodation. The soil of segregation affected hotels, restaurants and other establishments.

Most appropriately, as the marchers neared the Capitol, Peter, Paul and Mary were singing Bob Dylan’s epic song of social activism and wisdom, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

1964 March on Frankfort, Kentucky Commission on Human Rights,
Former Brooklyn Dodgers star Jackie Robinson addressed a crowd of 10,000 at a civil rights rally on March 5, 1964, at the state capitol in Frankfort. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders led the peaceful demonstration, calling for a “good public accommodations bill” to prohibit segregation and discrimination in stores, restaurants, theaters and businesses. At right is photographer Bill Strode, who was on assignment for the Louisville Courier Journal. Herald-Leader Archive Photo

Gov. Breathitt was in his office, but chose to not personally address the crowd or accept the petition for equal accommodations. Undeterred, a delegation led by Dr. King, Robinson, Powers and others, to include Rev. K.L. Moore of the First Baptist Church of Frankfort, hand-delivered the petition to his office and discussed the bill before the legislature.

That year, the bill did not pass the legislature, however, Breathitt proudly signed the Kentucky Civil Rights Act into law on Jan. 27, 1966, with Kentucky becoming the first southern state to do so.

10,000 March for Rights in Kentucky's Capital, page 27, New York Times, March 6, 1964. Reformatted for this post.

March 4, 1960

Houston's First Sit-ins Conducted by Texas Southern University Students Leads to Quick City Action to Desegregate Lunch Counters

On March 4, 1960, a group of black Texas Southern University students sat down at Weingarten grocery store's counter and demanded service. From Houston honors TSU pioneers for sit-in that made strides, August 2, 2011, Houston Chronicle.
Excerpted in whole from Houston's First Sit-in, from Wikipedia

Houston's first sit-in was held Friday, March 4, 1960 at the Weingarten's grocery store lunch counter located at 4110 Almeda Road in Houston, Texas. This sit-in was a nonviolent, direct action protest led by more than a dozen Texas Southern University students. The sit-in was organized to protest Houston's legal segregation laws. The students met on Texas Southern University's campus and the YMCA located on Wheeler Street to organize the sit-in. They called their meetings 'war room' sessions. In these sessions, the students strategized like a military unit on how they would dismantle Houston's disenfranchisement laws. They believed that their peaceful approach was a tactic that would break Houston's discriminatory practices. It worked. The students called themselves the Progressive Youth Association (PYA). PYA was formed to address the social, political and economic issues that African-Americans faced in Houston. The Houston collegians were inspired by students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, who held a sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960.

On the day of the Houston sit-in, the students met at a flag pole located at Hannah Hall on TSU's campus. They said a prayer; lined up in pairs, and begin to march to the Weingarten's lunch counter. As they marched down Wheeler Street, people along the route noticed. Others joined in the rally as the students marched down the street. Upon arriving at Weingarten's, the students went into the store and sat at the lunch counter. Eldrewey Stearns, the leader, called the police to alert them about the sit-in. It was a strategy Stearns hoped with would ensure the protest would remain peaceful. Customers and employees hurled insults at them. They were never served. However, this did not deter the students from holding sit-ins at other segregated businesses in Houston.

As a result of the students' actions, Houston leaders, black and white, met behind closed doors to discuss how to peacefully desegregate Houston. The students were unaware of the meetings. Media blackouts were held by white owned media about the students' initiatives to end racial segregation in Houston.[citation needed] However, not long after the students held the March 4 sit-in, Houston businesses quietly desegregated. The revolutionary actions of TSU students and others at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) played a role in the U.S. ultimately signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.

Fifty years later, Serbino Sandifer-Walker, a journalism professor at the same university, organized a march with the original students, current students, city leaders, state leaders, and many others to commemorate this historic day. A U.S. post office now sits at the location. However, a Texas Historical Marker sits in the front of the facility to commemorate the courageous Texas Southern University students who led that first sit-in, which played a major role in the desegregation of Houston, Texas

Houston's First Sit-in March 4, 1960, 8-min, produced by KTVU Houston, as posted on Houston Rocket's Black History. Photos below captured from the video.
Video footage from March 4, 1960, when a group of 13 Texas Southern University students sat at the lunch counter of a Weingarten's Supermarket in Houston. This footage from KPRC-TV captures stores attempting to deter demonstrators by closing their lunch counters and protesters seated an an undisclosed counter, possibly Woolworth's or Walgreen's, in Houston. Watch the full video at: Texas Archive of the Moving Image

March 3, 1965

Funeral for Activist Jimmy Lee Jackson in Marion, Alabama Leads to the Selma-to-Montgomery March 21 Days Later

Jimmie Lee Jackson, undated photo, Encyclopedia of Alabama
Excerpted in whole from Murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson Triggers Selma March, from This Day in Civil Rights History, Williams and Beard, page 77.

On this day in civil rights history, the funeral of Jimmie Lee Jackson was held. His death roused activists and resulted in the Selma-to-Montgomery March.

Marion, Alabama, about 40 miles from Selma, had gained national media attention a month earlier when hundreds of black children were arrested in a voting rights march. Two weeks later, on the evening of February 18, a large group of Marion residents walked to the county jail to sing for the release of SCLC worker James Orange. The night march was risky, and the Marion police force, reinforced by cops from all over the state, attacked in force. Shooting out the streetlights, the police descended on the marchers in the anonymity of darkness. The marchers broke rank and fled. The police followed, beating stragglers.

The fleeing marchers included 80-year-old Cager Lee, whose grandson, Jimmie Lee Jackson, was inside Mack's Cafe with his mother and sister. Jackson saw troopers attacking his grandfather and ran outside to protect him, pulling him inside. Police followed them into the restaurant, swinging billy clubs indiscriminately. Jackson tried to protect his mother and was pinned down in the corner and then shot in the stomach. Jackson fled into the street, where policemen beat him viciously as he stumbled forward. He eventually fell in the street and ceased to move. Eight days later, he died.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and associates lead a procession behind the casket of Jimmy Lee Jackson during a funeral service at Marion, Alabama. From left are: John Lewis, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Rev. Andrew Young. (AP Photo). From Selma 1965: Marches and Bloody Sunday violence led to Voting Rights Act
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., preaches at the funeral of Jimmy Lee Jackson. (AP Photo) From Selma 1965: Marches and Bloody Sunday violence led to Voting Rights Act

No one was charged with the murder, and state authorities defended the actions of the troopers on that night. On February 28, the first service for Jackson was held. A homemade banner proclaimed "Racism killed our brother." Some among the civil rights activists wanted to march with Jackson's body from Selma to Montgomery to lay the body on the steps of the state capitol, symbolically at the feet of Governor George Wallace. Many civil rights dignitaries attended a second service for Jackson and Martin Luther King Jr. preached the memorial service. More than 700 people followed the hearse on a rainy, dreary day to the gravesite.

Twenty-two days later, the Selma-to-Montgomery March did reach the steps of the state capitol. Jackson's senseless death had galvanized the movement and the national outcry over violence and denial of the ballot to blacks in Alabama inspired Congress to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

March 2, 1955

15-Year Old Claudette Colvin Arrested and Jailed for Refusing to Give Up Her Seat on Montgomery, Alabama Bus - Inspiration to Rosa Park

Mural along Claudette Colvin Drive in Montgomery, Alabama, See 'An element of hope': Claudette Colvin mural unveiled, Montgomery Advertiser, January 15, 2021.

Nespaper clipping found in article, Claudette Colvin: the woman who refused to give up her bus seat – nine months before Rosa Parks, The Guardian, February 25, 2021
Excerpted in whole from Claudette Colvin (1935- ), March 24, 2014, Black Past

Claudette Colvin, a nurse’s aide and Civil Rights Movement activist, was born on September 5, 1939, in Birmingham, Alabama. Her parents were Mary Jane Gadson and C.P. Austin, but she was raised by her great-aunt and great-uncle, Mary Ann and Q.P. Colvin. Claudette Colvin and her guardians relocated to Montgomery when she was eight. She later attended Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery.

On March 2, 1955, 15-year-old Colvin, while riding on a segregated city bus, made the fateful decision that would make her a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement. She had been sitting far behind the seats already reserved for whites, and although a city ordinance empowered bus drivers to enforce segregation, blacks could not be asked to give up a seat in the “Negro” section of the bus for a white person when it was crowded. However, this provision of the local law was usually ignored. Colvin was asked by the driver to give up her seat on the crowded bus for a white passenger who had just boarded; she refused.

Colvin was promptly arrested, taken to the city jail, and was charged with disturbing the peace, breaking the city’s segregation ordinance, and assaulting policemen. She went to Montgomery juvenile court on March 18, 1955 and was represented by Fred Gray, an African American lawyer from the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Although she defended her innocence on the three charges, she was found guilty. The court sentenced her to indefinite probation and declared her to be a ward of the state. The Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) looked into her case and initially raised money to appeal her conviction. On May 6, 1955, Colvin’s case was moved to the Montgomery Circuit Court, where two of the three charges against her were dropped. Colvin’s charge of allegedly assaulting the arresting police officers was maintained.


From This 15-year-old was the original Rosa Parks, History Refocused, CNN.

In response to Colvin’s conviction, some local community members initiated a boycott of the local bus system. A local civic organization, the Women’s Political Council (WPC), had already voiced their concerns to city commissioners about the city bus line’s poor treatment of blacks and sought a test case to serve as a catalyst for a large local boycott. The WPC, however, did not choose her to be that test case. Colvin and other community activists felt that this was likely due to her youth, her dark skin, and the fact that she was pregnant at the time by a married man.

When the Montgomery Bus Boycott began in December of 1955, the NAACP and MIA filed a lawsuit on behalf of Colvin, and four other women, including Mary Louise Smith, who had been involved in earlier acts of civil disobedience on the Montgomery buses. Colvin served as a witness for the case, Browder v. Gayle, which eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Browder v. Gayle more explicitly overturned Plessy v. Ferguson than Brown v. Board had because, like Plessy, it was specifically about transportation.

Although Colvin’s actions predated the more famous actions of Rosa Parks by nine months, she is much less well known. Colvin decided to speak about her case only after she retired as a nurse’s aide in New York City, New York in 2004.

March 1, 1960

1000 Alabama State College Students Protest at State Capitol After Governor Demands Expulsion for Sit-in Leaders

Students at Alabama State College, a traditionally African American institution in Montgomery, Alabama, staged an anti-segregation sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in the Montgomery County Courthouse on February 25, 1960. Four days later, on February 29, 1960, Alabama Governor John Patterson held a news conference to condemn the sit-in.

Patterson, who was also chairman of the State Board of Education, threatened to terminate Alabama State College's funding unless it expelled the student organizers and warned that "someone [was] likely to be killed" if the protests continued. The next day, more than 1,000 Alabama State College students marched on the state capitol. On March 2, 1960, the college expelled the nine student leaders of the courthouse sit-in.

More than 1,000 students immediately pledged a mass strike, threatened to withdraw from the school, and staged days of demonstrations; 37 students were arrested. Montgomery Police Commissioner L.B. Sullivan recommended closing the college, which he claimed produced only "graduates of hate and racial bitterness." Meanwhile, six of the nine expelled students sought reinstatement through a federal lawsuit. In August 1960, in Dixon v. Alabama, a federal court upheld the expulsions as "justified and, in fact, necessary" and barred the students' readmission to the school.

From the Alabama Expels 9 Negro Students, New York Times, March 3, 1960, page 15, reformatted to fit this post

On February 25, 2010, in a ceremony commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the sit-in, Alabama State University (formerly Alabama State College) President William Harris reinstated the nine students, criticized Governor Patterson's "arbitrary, illegal and intrusive" role in forcing the expulsions, and praised the student protest as "an important moment in civil rights history."

From the 1,000 Negroes Join March in Alabama, New York Times, March 2, 1960, page 1, reformatted to fit this post
Feb. 29, 1960 - Student Sit-in Organizers Expelled. Voices of the Civil Rights Movement, More than 70,000 black students protested segregation as part of the highly effective 1960s sit-in movement. For nine student organizers, their civil disobedience was met with expulsion from Alabama State College. Many others were expelled across the South, but that only emboldened thousands more in protesting rampant racial injustice.

Resources Used – common sources used to find daily posts


On June 1, 2020, in part as a response prompted by the George Floyd murder and subsequent re-awakening of the general public to the history of racist struggles, I started a daily practice of finding a relevant moment in Freedom Rights Movement anniversary history. I've found this both personally cathartic – engaging in daily consciousness of the ongoing struggle over the past 400 years – as well as potentially useful for future students.

~Howard Levin

#ohpcrm #civilrights