Saturday, November 9, 2019

Civil Rights Events
March to Montgomery
Murder of Viola Liuzzo
It's late afternoon when the marchers begin to disperse after the freedom rally at the Alabama Capitol. From the moment they leave Brown Chapel in Selma to the end of the program in Montgomery, the U.S. Army and federal law enforcement agencies keep everyone safe — no one has been seriously injured. But now the elaborate protection system begins to wind down just as tens of thousands of people head home. Unfamiliar with Montgomery streets, thousands of northern supporters, who came directly to the city, need help finding the homes and churches where their luggage is waiting and then transportation to airports and bus depots. Since passage of the Civil Rights Act, Black-owned taxis are now legally permitted to carry white passengers, but they are overwhelmed and white taxis want nothing to do with "agitators" and "race-mixers." Thousands of Blacks need to return to Selma, and thousands more to Wilcox, Perry, and other Alabama counties and communities. What little money SCLC has left is used to charter some buses, but most people have to be ferried back along US 80 in hastily organized carpools (Murder 1).

In the winter of 1965, Viola Liuzzo had two children by a previous marriage and three with her husband Anthony, an official with Teamsters local 247 in Detroit. Born in Pennsylvania, she had been raised in blinding poverty, mostly in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Viola was an observant girl, however, and one of the things she noticed was that however tough life was for her family, blacks in Chattanooga seemed to have it worse. She had a big heart, her kids recall to this day, and her everyday activism ranged from taking in stray cats and dogs to going back to school at Wayne State University to get a degree in sociology. She also contributed to social causes championed by her congregation, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit.

That February and March, she had been watching television coverage from Alabama, as Selma turned increasingly violent. In February, state troopers clubbed and fatally shot Jimmie Lee Jackson. In early March, James Reeb, a Unitarian minister from Boston was beaten to death.

Liuzzo had watched television as the March 7 demonstration turned into a violent attack on the marchers, an event dubbed “Bloody Sunday.” That month, she attended a sympathy rally in support of the Selma protesters, and when some Wayne State study partners told her they were planning to go to Alabama, Liuzzo decided to join them. She volunteered to take her own car, a 1963 Oldsmobile, which proved fateful. She left Detroit on March 16, telling her husband she hoped he’d understand (Cannon 1-2).

Driving alone in her big Oldsmobile, it takes her three days to reach Selma where she volunteers with different work teams including the transportation committee (Murder 2).

Liuzzo joined thousands of fellow protestors in the first leg of the historic Selma to Montgomery march on March 21. However, state officials only allowed 300 marchers to continue the journey along the section of Highway 80 known as "Big Swamp" where the road narrowed from four to two lanes, and Liuzzo was not among the chosen group. Instead, she served at the Brown's Chapel hospitality desk in Selma until she rejoined the selected group on March 24 at City of St. Jude just inside the Montgomery city limits, where she provided first aid to many of the marchers. While waiting for the final leg of the march to start on the morning of March 25, Liuzzo had a premonition that somebody was going to be killed that day; she thought it might even be Alabama Governor George Wallace. After spending time in prayer, Liuzzo felt better and joined a swelling crowd of thousands of protestors who triumphantly walked to the steps of the capitol building.

After the rally at the capitol ended, Liuzzo returned to City of St. Jude where she met up with Leroy Moton, a young [19-year-old] civil rights worker who had been using Liuzzo's car to shuttle marchers back and forth between Selma and Montgomery. Liuzzo drove a group of marchers and Moton to Selma, where Moton retrieved a set of keys for another car in Montgomery that was to be used to transport additional groups of marchers. Liuzzo offered to drive Moton back to Montgomery and to bring any remaining marchers back to Selma before leaving for Detroit. … (Baumgartner 1-2).

By now it's dusk. Loitering in Selma's Silver Moon Cafe is a Klan "action team" of four KKK members from Bessemer, a suburb of Birmingham. The four are William Eaton, Eugene Thomas, Collie Wilkins, and Gary Rowe. They're hard-core Klansmen, well experienced in violence and brutality. Though the first three don't know it, Rowe is also a paid informant for the FBI and has been so for many years. All day they've been in Eugene's Chevy Impala trying to get close enough to kill Dr. King, but Army security has been too tight. As night falls, they are disappointed and discouraged

Elmer Cook, one of the three men who killed Rev. Reeb, stops by their table. "I did my job," he says, "now you go and do yours." They return to their car and go hunting for someone to kill. On Broad Street, they spot an Oldsmobile with Michigan plates heading for the bridge. A white woman is driving. Her passenger is a Black man. They have their target. The four Klansmen follow her over the bridge, hanging back until they clear the state troopers and Army jeeps still patrolling the four-lane segment of Highway 80 leading out of Selma.

Out on the dark, two-lane stretch of US-80 in Lowndes County, Liuzzo and Moton suddenly realize they are being chased. She floors it, hoping to outrun their pursuers. The Klan car is faster. Slowly it gains on them. On a long straight section with no oncoming traffic, Thomas manages to draw up alongside. The other three open fire with pistols. Mrs. Liuzzo is shot through the head, killing her instantly. She slumps over, her foot no longer on the gas. The attackers surge ahead. The Oldsmobile swerves off the road into the shoulder ditch and then up the slope of a small embankment. Moton, unwounded but covered in Viola's blood, grabs the steering wheel and manages to bring the careening car to a stop.

The Klansmen turn around and come back. They shine a light though the shattered window glass. Moton feigns death. The Klansmen drive off. Moton flags down a truck carrying marchers home from Montgomery. They take him back to Selma. The cops arrest him.

News of Mrs. Liuzzo's murder is flashed to Washington. FBI Director Hoover informs President Johnson and Attorney General Katzenbach that an informer was in the Klan car. Though he has not yet received any report from Rowe, he assures them that his unnamed operative had no gun and did no shooting — which he later learns is not the case. Hoover echoes and validates segregationist slanders and slurs, falsely accusing Mrs. Liuzzo of having needle marks on her arm from taking drugs, and "necking" with Moton who, he claims, was "snuggling up close to the white woman."

What he does not reveal to the President (or anyone else outside the Bureau) is that Rowe's FBI handlers had known in advance, and granted permission, for him to ride with the KKK "action team" that intended to kill Dr. King. And that the Bureau made no effort to place them under surveillance or prevent them from committing murder.

Nor does Hoover reveal that for the past five years while working as a paid FBI informant, Rowe has simultaneously been an active and aggressive Klansman. The Bureau knows that he shot a Black man in the chest during turmoil over school integration and, though never charged, he was suspected of complicity in the Birmingham Church bombing that killed four little girls. They also know that he participated in the savage mob attack on the Freedom Riders in Birmingham. Rowe had warned the FBI in advance that the beating was going to take place — but the FBI did nothing to prevent it. Neither did they use Rowe's information to arrest the perpetrators. Nor did they ever act on any of the other racial crimes he participated in and reported to them.

All of this is kept hidden until 1975, three years after Hoover's death. Idaho Senator Frank Church leads investigations by the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Regard to Intelligence Activities (Church Committee) that publicly reveal the concealed story of the FBI's relation with Rowe. A history that is then confirmed by a special Justice Department investigation report titled, The FBI, the Department of Justice, and Gary Thomas Rowe.

On Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Liuzzo's death, Johnson, Hoover, and Katzenbach announce the arrest of the four Klansmen. Charges against Rowe are dropped and he is given immunity in return for testifying against the other three. Murder is a state crime, and Alabama immediately releases the killers on bail. Segregationist whites now add "Open Season" bumper stickers to accompany their Confederate-flag license plates. Other than the assassins themselves, Leroy Moton is the only eyewitness to the murder. When he is released from jail, he is sent north for safety so the Klan can't murder him before he testifies (Murder 2-5).

Within a day of Viola’s murder, FBI agents, following their director’s dictates, prepared a report declaring that Liuzzo had been on drugs while she had been driving. Hoover himself sent a memo saying she had been “sitting very, very close to the negro in the car; that it had the appearance of a necking party.” An autopsy subsequently revealed no traces of drugs in her system and she had not had sex recently before her death.

Liuzzo and her family were smeared by the FBI, Selma officials, and the media. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover attempted to divert attention from the fact that Rowe had tipped off his handler that there might be trouble the day before Liuzzo was killed. Hoover created a file depicting Liuzzo as an unstable woman with unsavory motives and also painted her husband, Jim, who was a member of the Teamsters union, as a thug. Hoover had his agents leak these reports to the media, who ran numerous articles questioning Liuzzo's character and reasons for being in Selma. Additionally, Selma Sheriff Jim Clark obtained and widely shared a file, known as the Lane Report, from the former chief of detectives in Detroit, who also questioned Liuzzo's mental stability. The Report bolstered … J. Edgar Hoover's self-serving portrayal of Mrs. Liuzzo as a drug-taking middle-aged adulteress with a black teenage lover … Finally, at a time when gender roles and stereotypes reflected and reinforced considerable gender inequality in American society, many Americans, both men and women alike, believed Liuzzo should have stayed home and tended to her family rather than advocating for voting rights for blacks (Baumgartner 5-6).

the July 1965 issue of The Ladies' Home Journal published a poll that asked if readers thought Liuzzo was a good mother. Fifty-five percent didn't. ("I feel sorry for what happened," said one woman in a focus group convened to talk about the Liuzzo story, "but I feel she should have stayed home and minded her own business.")
The smears took an awful toll. Anthony Liuzzo became a heavy drinker and later died. The Liuzzo children all moved away. Sally Liuzzo-Prado, the youngest, was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. …

She remembered that her mother "called us every night. I learned how to cursive write and she was so excited. She told me to write my name and put it on her dresser and she'd see it when she got home” (Bates 1).

two years ago, Liuzzo-Prado elected to return to her hometown.
"The older I got, the more I realized there was a lot of work to be done in Detroit still," she says. "And, you know, it's not so much just for her to have recognition. It's to right the wrongs done to her by J. Edgar Hoover." (Bates 3-4).
Martin Luther King attended Viola’s funeral and comforted the family. A group of people tried to break down the Liuzzos' door, and a cross was burned on their lawn. What [daughter] Sally Liuzzo-Prado remembers most vividly is the morning she returned to first grade after her mother's death.
She was wearing her saddle shoes, which her older sister, Penny, had polished.
"It was pouring rain that day. And I looked down at my saddle shoes and the white polish was coming off," she says. "These people — grown-ups — lined the street and were throwing rocks at me, calling me 'N-lover's baby.' I didn't know what that meant. I thought it was because of my shoes."
Anthony Liuzzo … withdrew his daughter from the school and had her transferred. For years, he drove her to and from school every day. Liuzzo-Prado says her father also hired two armed guards to watch their house day and night for two years (Bates 2-3).
Washington Post reporter Donna Britt interviewed Mary Liuzzo Lilleboe and her four siblings in 2016. She asked Mary who her mother was.

Mary answered: Everything you’d want a mom — and a hero — to be. She and her siblings were only too happy to discuss their mother with me recently, “not as a martyr,” as eldest daughter Penny put it, “but as this wonderful human being who loved every living creature.”

[Mary] Lilleboe was a 10th-grader in 1965. Her book report on “To Kill A Mockingbird” was in the car in which her mom died. The intolerance for suffering that had led Liuzzo to enroll in nursing classes made her acutely aware of black Americans’ feelings of invisibility. During a visit to a department store’s elaborate Christmas display, she asked Lilleboe, then 13, how she’d feel if every Santa she saw was black instead of white. When Lilleboe was 16, Liuzzo asked her how she’d feel “if the magazines I loved never put pretty white girls on their covers.” The questions saddened Lilleboe, now 69, of Grants Pass, Ore., but offered “a glimpse into a world totally different than the one I was living in.”

By any measure, the life Liuzzo gave her children was an enviable one. The wife of a Teamsters business agent, she was the nature-loving mom, whose Tennessee roots inspired barefoot strolls and an insistence on exposing her kids to planetariums, rodeos, circuses and even watching their dog giving birth, so they’d appreciate the natural world. She was the caring mom who cured son Tony’s terror of the noisy trucks spraying pesticides on the neighborhood’s trees by visiting City Hall and arranging for him to ride in one. “I’m sitting on this big truck, helping [workers],” Tony, 62, of Milwaukee, recalls. “I was never afraid after that.”

She was the fun mom, says Penny, 71, of Irwin, Tenn., describing the night she and a friend watching a scary movie were terrified when Viola — wailing ghoulishly in a fright wig, greenish makeup and Tony’s black altar-boy robes — materialized from around a dark corner.

What possessed Liuzzo to respond to her husband’s assertion that civil rights “isn’t your fight,” with, “It’s everybody’s fight,” and to join the hundreds flooding Alabama to protest?

Liuzzo’s instantaneous response to King’s appeal didn’t shock [Mary] Lilleboe. “If Mom saw a wrong . . . she took action,” she explains. When a neighbor’s house burned down one Christmas eve, her mother pounded on the door of a toy store owner’s home, insisting he open his shop so she could buy presents for the displaced family.

Her empathy was so reflexive, Lilleboe wonders, “Was Mom born with it?” As a child in Chattanooga, Liuzzo despised how cruelly she and her sister Rose Mary were treated as poor kids living in one-room shacks — yet she couldn’t help noticing black kids were treated even worse. Lilleboe never forgot her mom’s grief when the baby Liuzzo was carrying was stillborn — and her outrage when her Catholic church refused to bury her infant because it wasn’t baptized. If her love was too deep to discriminate against a baby, Liuzzo reasoned, God’s had to be immeasurably deeper, so she left Catholicism. Viola’s best friend in the world was Sara Evans, a black restaurant worker whom Liuzzo asked to care for her kids if anything befell her. After Liuzzo’s death, Evans became the brood’s second mother, especially when their dad — devastated by his beloved wife’s murder — drank too much or retreated.

Changing the world takes grit, grinding effort, unrelenting faith. In the journal the Liuzzos obtained from the FBI, [Viola] … wrote, “I can’t sit back and watch my people suffer,” about folks who looked nothing like her. Explains Lilleboe: “She actually believed it when Christ said that the suffering and needy are our people. Mom saw all other human beings as her people” (Britt 7-13, 21).

On Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Liuzzo's death, [President] Johnson, Hoover, and Katzenbach announce the arrest of the four Klansmen. Charges against Rowe are dropped and he is given immunity in return for testifying against the other three. Murder is a state crime, and Alabama immediately releases the killers on bail. Segregationist whites now add "Open Season" bumper stickers to accompany their Confederate-flag license plates. Other than the assassins themselves, Leroy Moton is the only eyewitness to the murder. When he is released from jail, he is sent north for safety so the Klan can't murder him before he testifies.

On May 3rd, six weeks after the murder, Collie Wilkins is put on trial for Liuzzo's murder. Whites jam the Lowndes County courthouse in Hayneville to show their support for a KKK killer. Blacks dare not attend. The jury, of course, is all white. And in accordance with southern tradition, the jury is also all male (white women being considered too pure, fragile, and delicate, to face the brutal underpinnings of the southern way of life).

The prosecution presents an irrefutable case of first degree (premeditated) murder, laying out both forensic and investigative evidence, and the eyewitness testimony of both Leroy Moton and Gary Rowe, who is now revealed under heavy guard as an FBI informant. During cross examination, Matt Murphy, the Klan's lawyer (or "Klonsel"), accuses Moton of shooting Liuzzo after having "interracial sex" with her, "under the hypnotic spell of narcotics." Robert Shelton, Imperial Wizard of the Alabama KKK, sits with Wilkins at the defendant's table. After the prosecution rests its case, Murphy offers a cursory 20-minute defense. Then he attacks the prosecution and the victim. He characterizes Mrs. Liuzzo as, "A white nigger who turned her car over to a black nigger for the purpose of hauling niggers and communists back and forth." And he accuses Rowe of being a liar, "... as treacherous as a rattlesnake ... a traitor and a pimp and an agent of Castro and I don't know what all," for violating his Klan oath of loyalty and secrecy.
Though Wilkins's guilt is obvious, reporters and white onlookers assume the local white jury will quickly acquit him — as is the southern custom in racial cases. But to everyone's surprise, the jury fails to bring back a swift verdict of innocent on all counts. Instead, their deliberations are carried over to the next day. A mistrial is declared when the jury reports they are hopelessly deadlocked 10-2 for conviction on a manslaughter charge. This means they've chosen not to reach a guilty verdict on first or second degree murder, but 10 of them are willing to convict on the lesser charge of manslaughter (killing in the heat of understandable passion without premeditation or malice aforethought).
Some reporters believe that 10 Lowndes County whites willing to convict a Klansman of anything is a sign of racial progress. But most Movement activists assume it's because the victim was both white and a woman. In their opinion, if it had been Leroy Moton shot in the head, or a white male activist like Mickey Schwerner, a quick verdict of not guilty would have been returned.
Syndicated journalist Inez Robb is the only reporter who dares raise a fundamental question:
What sorely troubles me, if we accept the prosecution's account of the slaying, is the moral aspect of Rowe's presence in the car ... Under what kind of secret orders did Rowe work? [Was he expected to join in crime, strictly observe, or try to prevent murder?] It is one woman's opinion that the FBI owes the nation an explanation of its action in the Liuzzo case. — Inez Robb.

No explanation is ever forthcoming from the FBI. Bureau Director Hoover's personal vindictiveness against anyone who questions or criticizes either himself or the Bureau is notorious. … (Murder 5-8).

Viola Liuzzo's murder prompted a variety of responses from both the government and the American people. President Lyndon Johnson ordered an investigation of the Ku Klux Klan and petitioned Congress to make it legal to file federal murder charges against killers of civil rights workers. Additionally, Liuzzo's murder, like James Reeb's murder in Selma only two weeks prior, increased support for the Voting Rights Act, which Congress passed and President Johnson signed into law in August 1965 (Baumgartner 7).

On October 20, Wilkins is placed on trial a second time. Again, Leroy Moton and Rowe testify. Replacing Murphy as defense counsel is former FBI agent and Birmingham Mayor Arthur Hanes. Like Murphy, he vilifies Mrs. Liuzzo and smears Moton, asking, "Leroy, was it part of your duties as transportation officer to make love to Mrs. Liuzzo?" This time the all white, all male, Lowndes County jury requires just 90 minutes to return a verdict of not Guilty on all charges.

In December 1965, Collie Wilkins, William Eaton, and Eugene Thomas, are tried by John Doar in federal court before Judge Frank Johnson. They are convicted of violating Mrs. Liuzzo's civil rights and sentenced to the maximum term of 10 years in prison. Rowe is given a $10,000 bonus by the FBI (equal to about $73,000 in 2012) and disappears into the secrecy of witness protection.

In 1977, the Liuzzo children manage to obtain her FBI file through the Freedom of Information Act and discover that the Bureau had orchestrated a covert slander and smear campaign to vilify their mother. They file a lawsuit claiming that the FBI knew Rowe and the other Klansmen were out to kill, and that by failing to take action, the Bureau effectively conspired in her murder. A judge dismisses their case in 1983, ruling there is no evidence of an FBI conspiracy to kill Mrs. Liuzzo specifically, and that the FBI could not be held liable for failing to prevent a crime.

When subpoenaed by a grand jury, Wilkins and Thomas testify that it was Rowe who actually shot Mrs. Liuzzo. They pass a lie-detector test and two Birmingham cops testify that Rowe bragged to them that he was the one who killed her. Rowe is indicted for her murder in 1978, but the federal government quashes the case on the basis of his immunity deal for testifying in the 1965 trials. Without an impartial investigation and actual trial, it is impossible to determine who is telling the truth — Rowe, a violent Klansman and informer, or the two convicted killers and police witnesses from a department known to be infiltrated by the KKK (Murder 9-10).

Works cited:

Bates, Karen Grigsby. “Killed For Taking Part In 'Everybody's Fight'.” NPR. August 12, 2013. Web.

Baumgartner, Neal. “Viola Gregg Liuzzo.” Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. Ferris State University. Web.

Britt, Donna. “A White Mother Went to Alabama to Fight for Civil Rights. The Klan Killed Her for It.” The Washington Post. December 15, 2017. Web.

Cannon, Carl M. “From Detroit to Selma: Viola Liuzzo's Sacrifice.” RealClear Politics. January 2, 2018. Web.

“Murder and Character Assassination of Viola Liuzzo.” The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Civil Rights Events
March to Montgomery
The March

some thirty-two hundred marchers left the sunlit chinaberry trees around Brown Chapel and set off for Montgomery. In the lead were King and Abernathy, flanked by Ralph Bunche of the United Nations, also a Nobel Prize winner, and Rabbi Abraham Heschel of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, with his flowing white beard and windtossed hair. Behind them came maids and movie stars, housewives and clergymen, nuns and barefoot college students, civil rights workers and couples pushing baby carriages. In downtown Selma, Clark’s deputies directed traffic, and the sheriff himself, still wearing his NEVER button, stood scarcely noticed on a street corner. As two state trooper cars escorted the marchers across the bridge, a record-store loudspeaker blared “Bye Bye Blackbird.”

The procession headed out Highway 80 now, helicopters clattering overhead and armed troops standing at intervals along the route. Several hundred whites lined the roadside, too, and a car with “Cheap ammo here” and “Open season on niggers” painted on the sides, cruised by in the opposite lane. Confederate flags bristled among the bystanders, some of whom gestured obscenely and held up signs that read, “Nigger lover,” “Martin Luther Kink,” and “Nigger King go home!” A woman in her early thirties screeched, “You all got your birth-control pills? You all got your birth-control pills?” On the whole, though, the spectators looked on in silence as King and his fellow blacks, United States flags floating overhead, trampled forever the old stereotype of the obsequious Southern Negro.

At the first encampment, some seven miles out, most people headed back to Selma by car and bus. King and the rest bedded down for the night in well-guarded hospital tents, the men in one and the women in another. “Most of us were too tired to talk,” recalled Harris Wofford, a friend of King and a former adviser to John F. Kennedy. But a group of Dallas County students sang on: “Many good men have lived and died,/ So we could be marching side by side.”

The next morning, wrote a New York Times reporter, “the encampment resembled a cross between a Grapes of Wrath migrant labor camp and the Continental Army bivouac at Valley Forge,” as the marchers, bundled in blankets, huddled around their fires downing coffee and oatmeal. At eight they stepped off under a cloudless sky.

As they tramped through the rolling countryside, carloads of federal lawmen guarded their flanks, and a convoy of army vehicles, utility trucks, and ambulances followed in their wake. Far ahead Army patrols checked out every bridge and searched the fields and forests along the highway. Presently, a sputtering little plane circled over the marchers and showered them with racist leaflets. They were signed by White Citizens Action, Inc., which claimed the leaflets had been dropped by the “Confederate Air Force.”

At the Lowndes County line, where the highway narrowed to two lanes, the column trimmed down to the three hundred chosen to march the distance. They called themselves the Alabama Freedom Marchers, most of them local blacks who were veterans of the movement, the rest assorted clerics and civil rights people from across the land. There was Sister Mary Leoline of Kansas City, a gentle, bespectacled nun whom roadside whites taunted mercilessly, suggesting what she really wanted from the Negro. There was one-legged James Letherer of Michigan, who hobbled along on crutches and complained that his real handicap was that “I cannot do more to help these people vote.” There was eighty-two-year-old Gager Lee, grandfather of Jimmie Lee Jackson, who could march only a few miles a day, but would always come back the next, saying, “Just got to tramp some more.” There was seventeen-year-old Joe Boone, a Negro who had been arrested seven times in the Selma demonstrations. “My mother and father never thought this day would come,” he said. “But it’s here and I want to do my part.” There was loquacious Andrew Young, King’s gifted young executive director, who acted as field general of the march, running up and down the line tending the sick and the sunburned. And above all there was King himself, clad in a green cap and a blue shirt, strolling with his wife, Coretta, at the front of his potluck army.

They were deep inside Lowndes County now, a remote region of dense forests and snake-filled swamps. Winding past trees festooned with Spanish moss, the column came to a dusty little Negro community called Trickem Crossroads. Walking next to King, Andrew Young pointed at an old church and called back to the others: “Look at that church with the shingles off the roof and the broken windows! Look at that! That’s why we’re marching!” Across from it was a dilapidated Negro school propped up on red bricks, a three-room shanty with asphalt shingles covering the holes in its sides. A group of old people and children were standing under the oak trees in front of the school, squinting at King in the sunlight. When he halted the procession, an old woman ran from under the trees, kissed him breathlessly, and ran back crying, “I done kissed him! I done kissed him!” “Who?” another asked. “The Martin Luther King!” she exclaimed. “I done kissed the Martin Luther King!”

On the third day out King left Alabama and flew off for an important speaking engagement in Cleveland; he would rejoin the marchers outside Montgomery. It rained most of the day, sometimes so hard that water spattered high off the pavement. The marchers toiled seventeen endless miles through desolate, rain-swept country, some dropping out in tears from exhaustion and blistered feet. When they staggered into a muddy campsite that evening, incredible news awaited them from Montgomery. The Alabama legislature had charged by a unanimous vote that the marchers were conducting wild interracial sex orgies at their camps. “All these segregationists can think of is fornication,” said one black marcher, “and that’s why there are so many shades of Negroes.” Said another, “Those white folks must think we’re supermen, to be able to march all day in that weather, eat a little pork and beans, make whoopee all night, and then get up the next morning and march all day again.”

On Wednesday, as the weary marchers neared the outskirts of Montgomery, the Kings, Abernathys, and hundreds of others joined them for a triumphal entry into the Alabama capital. “We have a new song to sing tomorrow,” King told them. “We have overcome.” James Letherer hobbled in the lead now, his underarms rubbed raw by his crutches and his face etched with pain. Flanking him were two flag bearers—one black and one white—and a young Negro man from New York who played “Yankee Doodle” on a fife. As the marchers swept past a service station, a crew-cut white man leaped from his car, raised his fist, and started to shout something, only to stand speechless as the procession of clapping, singing people seemed to go on forever.

And so they were in Montgomery at last. On Thursday the largest civil rights demonstration in Southern history made a climactic march through the city, first capital and “cradle” of the old Confederacy. Protected by eight hundred federal troops, twenty-five thousand people passed the Jefferson Davis Hotel, with a huge Rebel flag draped across its front, and Confederate Square, where Negroes had been auctioned in slavery days. There were the three hundred Freedom Marchers in front, now clad in orange vests to set them apart. There were hundreds of Negroes from the Montgomery area, one crying as she walked beside Harris Wofford, “This is the day! This is the day!” There was a plump, bespectacled white woman who carried a basket in one arm and a sign in the other: “Here is one native Selman for freedom and justice.” There were celebrities such as Joan Baez and Harry Belafonte, the eminent American historians John Hope Franklin and C. Vann Woodward. Like a conquering army, they surged up Dexter Avenue to the capital building, with Confederate and Alabama flags snapping over its dome. It was up Dexter Avenue that Jefferson Davis’s first inaugural parade had moved, and it was in the portico of the capital that Davis had taken his oath of office as President of the slave-based Confederacy. Now, more than a century later, Alabama Negroes—most of them descendants of slaves—stood massed at the same statehouse, singing “We Have Overcome” with state troopers and the statue of Davis himself looking on.

Wallace refused to come out of the capital and receive the Negroes’ petition. He peered out the blinds of his office, chuckling when an aide cracked, “An inauguration crowd may look like that in a few years if the voting rights bill passes.” But a moment later Wallace said to nobody in particular, “That’s quite a crowd out there.”

Outside King mounted the flatbed of a trailer, television cameras focusing in on his round, intense face. “They told us we wouldn’t get here,” he cried over the loudspeaker. “And there were those who said that we would get here only over their dead bodies, but all the world today knows that we are here and that we are standing before the forces of power in the state of Alabama saying, ‘We ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around.’” For ten years now, he said, those forces had tried to nurture and defend evil, “but evil is choking to death in the dusty roads and streets of this state. So I stand before you today with the conviction that segregation is on its deathbed, and the only thing uncertain about it is how costly the segregationists and Wallace will make the funeral.”

Not since his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial had an audience been so transfixed by his words rolling out over the loudspeaker in rhythmic, hypnotic cadences. “Let us march on to the realization of the American dream,” he cried. “Let us march on the ballot boxes, march on poverty, march on segregated schools and segregated housing, march on until racism is annihilated and America can live at peace with its conscience. That will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man. How long will it take? I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth pressed to earth will rise again. How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because you will reap what you sow. How long? Not long, because the arm of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Then King launched into “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” crying out, “Our God is marching on! Glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah” (Oates 36-46)!

Works cited:
Oates, Stephen B. “The Week The World Watched Selma.” American Heritage, 1982, Volume 33, Issue 4. Web.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Civil Rights Events
March to Montgomery
Injunction Lifted
MONTGOMERY: Jackson Street Baptist Church is the only church in Montgomery willing to open its doors for a SNCC-led protest. On Tuesday morning, a large number of demonstrators assemble there for a march on the Capitol in support of voting rights. Many were among the group surrounded by cops the previous evening before being allowed to disperse to their homes and campuses. Others have come from Tuskegee and Alabama State or are local high school youth cutting class to march for freedom. Also present are some clergy and several hundred northern students, mostly white, who have responded to Forman's call.
As the march approaches the Capitol, [James] Forman and several others advance ahead of the main line to reconnoiter. Suddenly, the Montgomery County mounted posse led by Sheriff Mac Sim Butler charge into them, whips and lariats lashing, long-clubs swinging hard. To keep from being knocked down and trampled by the hooves of rearing and lunging horses, Forman and the others wrap their arms around light poles, enduring the blows on their backs.
Forman later recalls: "That day became, for me, the last time I wanted to participate in a nonviolent demonstration. ... My ability to continue engaging in nonviolent direct action snapped that day and my anger at the executive branch of the federal government intensified."
Now joined by mounted troopers and sheriff's deputies on foot, the possemen attack the larger group at Decatur and Adams, a few blocks from the Capitol. They violently charge into the marchers, scattering them, driving them back into the Black neighborhood. MCHR doctors Richard Weinerman, Les Falk, Douglas Thompson and others try to give first aid to the injured. Nurse Robert Dannenburg is arrested and hauled off to the slammer.
I came to that march with a group from Pittsburgh, PA (3 chartered buses) with a contingent of students, some 30 strong, from the small, liberal arts, Catholic college where I was teaching at the time (Mount Mercy College, since renamed Carlow College). The march never made it to the Capitol building. A few blocks away the police stopped us and surrounded us. ... Suddenly we heard a loud noise coming from a side street ahead of us. A mounted posse came charging around the corner, the police stepped back, and the members of the posse charged into the marchers, clubbing them as they rode through the crowd. Marchers who fled onto porches found themselves trapped as the horse riders came up onto the porches after them. Eventually we made our way back to the church where the march began. —  Sam Carcione.
The savage attack with charging horses loosens the tight grip that Montgomery ministers and deacons have held on their churches. That evening SCLC is able to secure a location for a large mass meeting where the topic is voting rights and police violence. Attending are King, Abernathy, Lewis, Forman, and dozens of local ministers and deacons. Forman's speech stuns them with what John Lewis later recalled as, "One of the angriest, most fiery speeches made by a movement leader up to that point."
There's only one man in the country that can stop George Wallace and those posses. These problems will not be solved until the man in that shaggedy old place called the White House begins to shake and gets on the phone and says, "Now listen, George, we're coming down there and throw you in jail if you don't stop that mess." ... I said it today, and I will say it again. If we can't sit at the table of democracy, we'll knock the fucking legs off! 

Forman immediately catches himself and apologizes for his profanity in a church before women and children, and he adds the qualification, "But before we tear it completely down they will move to build a better one rather than see it destroyed." He goes on to question the sincerity of LBJ's promises, and in an echo of the original Alabama Project plan drafted by Diane Nash and James Bevel, he calls for "tying up every street and bus and committing every act of civil disobedience ever seen because I'm tired of seeing people get hit."

Though Forman apologizes, many in the church are offended by his language. Some are also alienated by his rage — but others share it. When Dr. King rises to speak, he preaches dedicated nonviolence and steadfast determination in the cause of freedom. "I'm not satisfied as long as the Negro sees life as a long and empty corridor with a 'no exit' sign at the end. The cup of endurance has run over. ... We cannot stand idly by and allow this to happen. [Tomorrow] we must get together a peaceful and orderly march on the courthouse in Montgomery [to confront Sheriff Butler]" (Brutal 1-5).

MONTGOMERY: On Wednesday afternoon, Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy of SCLC, and James Forman and Silas Norman of SNCC lead some 2,000 people in pouring rain on a mile-long march from Jackson Street Baptist to the Montgomery County courthouse where Sheriff Butler has his offices. The route requires them to traverse a white neighborhood where furious hecklers line the street, shouting obscenities and curses, throwing what they can find at the protesters. King is their chief target. Alabama State and local high school students surround him in a living shield to protect him. Smarting from national condemnation, on this day the forces of "law and order" choose not to attack. A city official offers a lame apology for the previous day's brutality, "We are sorry there was a mix-up and a misunderstanding of orders." Activists assume that "mix-up" and "misunderstanding" refer to brutalizing nonviolent marchers where newsmen could take photos instead of herding the reporters away or waiting for nightfall.

King, Abernathy, Forman, and local Black leaders go inside to meet with Sheriff Butler, city and county officials, and John Doar of the Justice Department. For three long hours, the crowd waits in the rain, singing freedom songs, listening to impromptu speeches, and "testifying." To everyone's astonishment, the city police actually protect the crowd from a menacing throng of white hecklers.

The negotiators finally emerge at dusk. As does Sheriff Butler who apologizes for his posse's violent attacks. The Black leaders announce that white officials have agreed to stop using the posse against protesters. They have also agreed to establish policies and procedures for obtaining march permits to ensure First Amendment freedom of speech rights for Blacks. (The agreement only applies to the Montgomery city streets, not to state property under the jurisdiction of the Alabama State Troopers.) To most of the marchers, face-to-face negotiations between Black leaders and the white power-structure inside a government office is a significant achievement in and of itself, and the Sheriff's public apology and concessions on the right of Blacks to protest are seen as victories. But not everyone shares that view:
The others considered this a victory, we found it a shallow triumph and continued demonstrating until the end of the week when the march from Selma finally began. — James Forman, SNCC.

Later that evening, state troopers arrest more than 100 people, mostly students, for picketing on state property at the Capitol (Mass 1-2).

While the protest at the county courthouse is underway, at the federal court, Judge Johnson finally rules on the Williams v Wallace petition for an injunction requiring Alabama to permit a march from Selma to Montgomery.

After almost a week of hearings, during which contempt charges against King were dropped, Johnson ordered Alabama officials not to interfere with the Selma-to-Montgomery march. The plan Johnson endorsed, one worked out with military precision by civil rights leaders, called for the pilgrimage to commence on March 21 and culminate in Montgomery four days later. Only three hundred select people were to cover the entire distance, with a giant rally at the Alabama capital to climax the journey. “The extent of the right to assemble, demonstrate, and march should be commensurate with the wrongs that are being protested and petitioned against,” Judge Johnson ruled. “In this case, the wrongs are enormous.”

King and his followers were ecstatic, but Wallace was furious. He telegraphed President Johnson that Alabama could not protect the marchers because it would cost too much. Scolding Wallace for refusing to maintain law and order in his state (“I thought you felt strongly about this”), the President federalized 1,863 Alabama National Guardsmen and dispatched a large contingent of military police, U.S. marshals, and other federal officials to Selma (Oates 35).

SELMA: On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, SCLC and local leaders work long into the night preparing for the march. Anticipation runs high in Selma and the Black Belt counties. Freedom Movement supporters from all over America begin flowing into Montgomery and Selma by plane, bus, and car. Some come from as far away as Hawaii. Contingents arrive from voting rights battlegrounds in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland. They bring with them memories of their own struggles and suffering, and martyrs like Harry & Harriette Moore, Herbert Lee, Chaney, Schwerner, & Goodman.

They all have to be fed and places found for them to sleep.

the unsung scut-work of organizing logistic support for a multi-day road march with thousands of participants intensifies. Food — where and by whom will it be obtained and cooked, how will it be kept more or less hot and delivered to the marchers on the road? Clean drinking water. Portable toilets. Jackets and rain gear. Tents for sleeping. Sleeping bags. Garbage and trash pickup. Trucks and transport. Radio & walkie-talkie communications. Portable generators for campsites to provide security lights at night. March marshals. Security teams to guard the sleeping marchers. Press and public relations. And, of course, raising funds to pay for it all, to say nothing of the glamourous task of obtaining receipts, recording expenses, and issuing reimbursements. Everyone pitches in, locals and outsiders alike. Precision and coordination range from haphazard to nonexistent, but enthusiasm and energy are high.

Meanwhile, voter registration efforts and intermittent demonstrations and arrests continue in Selma, Montgomery, and the rural Black Belt counties. Many of those now participating are northerners waiting for the march to commence on Sunday.

NATION: In the North too, there is controversy. In a nationally-syndicated newspaper column on March 18 titled, "Danger From the Left," pundits Rowland Evans and Robert Novak label both John Lewis and James Forman, "two hotheaded extremists," who have "forced" a "weak-willed" Dr. King to resume the Selma march. Using words like, "capitulated," "abdicated," and "knuckled under," they charge King with having surrendered, "valuable ground to leftist extremists in the drive for control of the civil rights movement." And from their Olympian perch they proclaim that SNCC is "substantially infiltrated by beatnik left-wing revolutionaries, and — worst of all — by Communists."

Meanwhile, undeterred by these fulminations, hundreds of SNCC-led students continue their sidewalk sit-in on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, day after day in the snow and rain (March 1-7).

BIRMINGHAM: For reasons that are self-evident, Birmingham's nickname is "Bombingham." On Sunday the 21st, the first day of the March to Montgomery, five time-bombs using more than 200 sticks of dynamite are discovered before they explode. One is set to blast through Our Lady of the Universe Catholic Church during Sunday mass. A portable altar is quickly moved outside and the service completed in the parking lot. Another bomb is placed at First Congregational Church where many members of the Black elite worship. A Black high school, the home of Black civil-rights attorney Arthur Shores, and the former home of Dr. King's brother A.D. King are also targeted. Army demolition experts are called in to disarm them (Marching 1).

Works Cited:

“Brutal Attack in Montgomery.” The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.

“March 18-20, Organizing the March.” The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.

March 21-24, Marching to Montgomery.” The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.

Mass March to Montgomery Courthouse.” The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.

Oates, Stephen B. “The Week The World Watched Selma.” American Heritage, 1982, Volume 33, Issue 4. Web.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Civil Rights Events
March to Montgomery
Seeds of Hope
Thursday, March 11, 1965
NATION: Demonstrations supporting Black voting rights continue across the country. In city after city, civil rights organizations — particularly CORE — organize street marches and sit-in occupations of federal buildings. In churches and on college campuses, Friends of SNCC chapters mobilize support and collect money, books, food, and clothing for the Alabama Black Belt. Telegrams are flooding Congress and phones are ringing off the hook. Do something! Do something now!
WASHINGTON: Twelve students, Black and white, pose as tourists and slip into the White House where they stage a main-corridor sit-in. The first (and so far as is known, the only) such protest ever to occur inside the White House itself. They remain all day. But in the evening there is a swank soiree for members of Congress and their wives. Such notables might be offended by the sight of American citizens exercising their Free Speech rights about an issue that is shaking the nation. The protesters are arrested.
Meanwhile, negotiations for a single bipartisan voting bill continue. Katzenbach, Justice Department lawyers, Senate leaders both Republican and Democrat, Senate staff, and civil rights leaders are all involved to one degree or another. LBJ is pushing them to move fast. By the weekend he wants to announce that he is submitting a bill to Congress.
MONTGOMERY: The injunction hearing before Judge Johnson drones on, and on, and on. It is continued over to Friday.
SELMA: The "Selma Wall" vigil continues around the clock in intermittent rain. Tired of hearing the protesters sing "We've got a rope that's a Berlin Wall," Chief Baker removes the clothesline barrier (though not his cops). Everyone continues to sing "Berlin Wall" anyway. Several times a day students try to find a way to march out of the Carver Project, but each time speeding caravans of trooper cars manage to block them (Thursday 1-2).
BIRMINGHAM: All day Wednesday and into Thursday, Rev. Reeb's condition slowly deteriorates in a Birmingham hospital. The doctors know it is just a matter of time.
For the national media, the attack on the white ministers and news of Reeb's medical condition are major stories that equal, or surpass, the Turn-Around-Tuesday events on the bridge. Both stories continue to clash with President Johnson's, "Defend Democracy in Vietnam" PR campaign. He is not amused.
For Blacks, the contrast between the public reaction to the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson and the assault on Reeb is stark and bitter. Senators, congressmen, and other prominent Americans send personal telegrams of concern and condolence to Reeb's home in Boston. Pundits comment and analyze at length, and when Mrs. Reeb flies to Birmingham, she has to dodge a swarm of reporters to reach her husband's side. For Mrs. Jackson there had been nothing; not a note, not a phone call, and at most a few lines in the national press. Most galling of all is that the white public in general does not even notice the discrepancy; to them the police murder of an Afro-American man is of no consequence. But Black bitterness is not directed against Rev. Reeb — the people in Selma know he put his life in danger to stand with them and they honor and respect him for his courage and support.
Shortly before 7 pm on Thursday, March 11, Rev. Reeb dies. President Johnson phones Mrs. Reeb in Birmingham and arranges to fly her and her husband's body home on an Air Force jet.
SELMA: Police Chief Wilson Baker announces that he knows the identities of the four killers, and he promises to file murder charges against them. Meanwhile, the "Selma Wall" vigil continues around the clock in a cold rain. Squads and platoons of cops and troopers face the nonviolent protesters, determined to prevent any marching anywhere. From behind the police lines, white thugs hurl rocks at the protesters, hoping to provoke some response that the cops can use as an excuse for an attack on the demonstrators. On one occasion they even fire a pistol, lightly wounding a teenage girl. As usual, all the forces of law and order gathered in their hundreds — local, state, and federal — ignore these acts of violence by whites against Blacks.
[Four white men were eventually indicted for murdering Rev. Reeb. One of them, R.B Kelley, provided information to the police and was never brought to court. In December of 1965, the other three, Elmer Cook, William Hoggle and Namon "Duck" Hoggle were put on trial in Selma. They were quickly acquitted by an all-white jury. The courtroom was packed with white spectators who burst into applause and cheers when the verdict was read. No federal charges were ever filed against the four killers. In March 2011, 46 years later, the FBI announced it was reopening the case as a Civil Rights era "cold-case" investigation.] (Death 1-2).
Friday through Monday
WASHINGTON: While protests roil the streets of Washington and elsewhere around the country, on Friday, intense negotiations over voting rights language between Senate kingpins, administration officials and civil rights principals continue. By now legislative leaders agree that some provision for suspending the so-called "literacy tests" included in the bill and also authority to send federal registrars into counties that continue to systematically deny Black voting rights. But there is no agreement on the formulas or thresholds that would trigger such "drastic" federal action. … Another thorny issue is just how strong federal oversight of election and registration procedures should be in the affected states and counties, and whether all poll taxes should be eliminated.
MONTGOMERY: Meanwhile, Judge Johnson's marathon hearing on the right of American citizens to march in protest and petition their Governor for redress of grievances drags on — and on — and on. At the end of the day it's continued over to Monday, March 15.
On Friday evening, the students holding out at Dexter Church vote to return to their colleges where they can mobilize for further action come Monday. Jim Forman of SNCC issues a national call for students — many of whom are now on Spring break — to converge on Montgomery to support the Capitol protests. …
SELMA: The "Selma Wall" vigil continues — around the clock in a cold rain. From before dawn to deep in the night the women in the church kitchens continue to serve fried chicken, greens, and cornbread to hungry protesters who grab a few winks of sleep on the church pews between mass meetings and their shift on the line. All of the women laboring at the hot stoves hour after hour are Black — except one. Nellie Washburn is the daughter of Nannie Washburn — 65 years old, Georgia born, child of white sharecroppers, a textile worker from age 7, a union organizer in the 1930s, a life-long "Red," and a stalwart opponent of racism and exploitation. She, her blind son, Joe, and her daughter Nellie answered Dr. King's call.
NATION: On Saturday and Sunday, weekend demonstrations in support of voting rights flare in cities large and small across the nation. Some 30,000 people march in New York, half up 5th Avenue and the other half in Harlem, led by nuns from the Sisters of Charity. John Lewis, Jim Forman, and Bayard Rustin address the New York rallies. Two marches are also held in San Francisco, one a long torchlight parade that snakes through the city. In Los Angeles, students block mail trucks to protest federal inaction. More than 20,000 participate in a "Rally for Freedom" on Boston Common, and 1,000 defiantly march in New Orleans past angry white crowds who heckle and threaten them. Protests of varying sizes are held in other urban centers, and also in places like Norfolk VA, Binghamton NY, St. Augustine FL, and Bakersfield CA. In San Jose CA and Beloit WI marchers set off on 54-mile treks — the same distance as from Selma to Montgomery. And in Ottawa Canada and other foreign capitols there are sympathy protests outside American embassies.
WASHINGTON: More than 15,000 rally in Lafayette Park across from the White House where Fannie Lou Hamer tells them: "It's time now to stop begging them for what should have been done 100 years ago. We have stood up on our feet, and God knows we're on our way!" Close by, more than 1,000 people picket around the clock on Pennsylvania Avenue, their songs and chants clearly audible inside the West Wing corridors of power where Katzenbach tells LBJ that negotiating and drafting the voting rights bill is almost complete. It will be ready for submission on Monday. Johnson announces to the press that on Monday evening he will present the bill to Congress in a nationally televised address (Friday 1-4).
MONTGOMERY: Meanwhile, the hearing before Judge Johnson begins its fourth day [Monday] of examining the seemingly complex question of whether American citizens should be allowed to peacefully march to their state capitol and petition for redress of grievances (as is plainly and explicitly permitted by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution). Once again, the hearing is continued over to the following day, but this time with a significant change. The judge instructs the SCLC lawyers to prepare and present detailed plans for their proposed march to Montgomery — a sign that he intends to rule in favor of the march. While Movement observers are elated, some note that this forward motion in the long-stalled proceeding takes place only after President Johnson is finally ready to submit his voting bill to Congress with a televised address to the nation on the issue of Black voting rights. LBJ can now spin the March to Montgomery as support for his leadership and his legislation (Monday 2).
MONTGOMERY: Also on Monday, Jim Forman and SNCC staff lead 400 or so Alabama State students on a march from the ASC campus to the Capitol a dozen blocks away. Joining them are a number of mostly white northern students who have responded to Forman's call. Halfway there, cops block them at Jackson and High streets in the heart of the Black community. College administrators try to talk the protesters into returning to school, but the students refuse. Local Blacks urge the young marchers to hold fast.
Jackson and High is a center of Black commerce. On one corner is the Ben Moore hotel, Black-built, Black-owned, and the only hotel in the city where Blacks are welcome to stay. It was a hub of activity during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and over the years has become the usual site of the rare meetings between white and Black community leaders (because, of course, it is unthinkable for white officials to meet with Blacks in City Hall as if they were equal citizens). SNCC now uses the hotel as their unofficial headquarters, the place where they hold staff and strategy meetings.
The demonstrators are blocked in the Jackson & High district for most of the afternoon, but as evening falls, the police line is withdrawn and they resume marching toward the Alabama seat of government. As they near the Capitol they are surrounded and attacked by state troopers and sheriff's deputies mounted on horses.
Meanwhile, back at the Jackson & High, the Montgomery County sheriff's posse, some of them mounted, show up eager for action. As a center of Black business and political activity, the district is a tempting target. Finding no marchers to attack, they beat local Blacks and charge against them with their horses. Not part of an organized demonstration, and with no defined leadership, the community responds with thrown rocks, bottles, and bricks. In retaliation the possemen escalate their violence (Protests 1-2).
The Tide Turns
Back on Wednesday, March 10th, the march to the Dallas County courthouse to pray for Rev. Reeb was blocked by the "Selma Wall." On this Monday, six days later, the vigil still continues around the clock, day after day, in sun and rain, though the goal now is to hold a courthouse memorial service rather than pray for Reeb's recovery. But still they are barred by the forces of "law and order" — Selma city cops, sheriff's deputies & possemen, and Alabama State Troopers. State alcohol agents and game wardens wearing green plastic helmets have been called in to replace troopers who were shifted to Montgomery in response to the student-led "second front."
Rachel West, age 8, remembers:
"During that time it seemed each day and each night was like the one before it; nothing changed. The rope stayed there, we stayed there, the troopers stayed there; we'd sing hour after hour until our throats became hoarse. The rain fell, fell almost constantly. The sun would come out briefly, then it would start raining again. We'd be soaked to the skin. It would turn warm; it would turn cold."
With the march blocked, the Freedom Movement assembles for a Reeb memorial in a jam-packed Brown Chapel. Dr. King is scheduled to deliver the eulogy, but he is stuck in Montgomery at Judge Johnson's interminable injunction hearing. The hours tick by and the crowd grows restless, even annoyed, at the delay. Finally, late in the afternoon, King arrives and is ushered to the podium.
Dr. King's eulogy for Rev. Reeb evokes memories of the Birmingham children and Jimmie Lee Jackson. He places Reeb's murder in context, laying blame not just on the "sick, misguided" killers, but also on indifferent religious leaders and irrelevant churches that "keep silent behind the safe security of stained glass windows." He condemns the "timidity" of the federal government and the apathy of citizens it supposedly serves. And, "Yes, he was murdered even by the cowardice of every Negro who tacitly accepts the evil of segregation." He goes on to talk about the Freedom Movement and what it means, recalling the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the student sit-ins, and the Freedom Rides.
Dr. King ends his eulogy with a testimony of hope. He tells the story of Bus Boycott's darkest hour, of how he was sitting in a courtroom where an Alabama judge was about to issue an injunction shutting down the carpools upon which the boycott depended. "The clock said it was noon, but it was midnight in my soul." Then, suddenly, news arrived that the United States Supreme Court had ruled against bus segregation. "Out of the wombs of a frail world, new systems of equality and justice are being born..." There are seeds of hope for, "the shirtless and barefoot people. ... Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future ... So we thank God for the life of James Reeb. We thank God for his goodness."
As Dr. King finishes, Rev. Abernathy rushes into the church and comes to the podium to announce that the "Selma Wall" has fallen! federal Judge Thomas in Mobile has issued an injunction permitting a march to the courthouse and a memorial service on the steps. The judge's ruling is the result of behind the scenes maneuvering and complex negotiations among Movement leaders and visiting religious dignitaries, Leroy Collins of the Federal Community Relations Service, and Selma Police Chief Wilson Baker, who for days, has argued in vain with Sheriff Clark to allow a memorial march and end the exhausting stand-off.
A wave euphoria sweeps through the packed church. The crowd surges through the doors and out on to Sylvan Street where they begin forming a march line three abreast. Angrily, grudgingly, the cops and possemen and troopers grip their billy clubs and step reluctantly to the side. More than 3,500 strong, the marchers stride down Sylvan Street, swelling with pride and "an immense sense of accomplishment" as they pass the spot where, for so long, they have been blocked. Under the strict terms of the injunction, the protesters are not allowed to gather for the service, so only those at the front of the line can hear the brief prayer and Dr. King's short tribute to all those who have been killed struggling for freedom. But when they conclude by singing "We Shall Overcome" everyone lifts their voices and the song flows like a wave back down the line that stretches for blocks along Alabama Avenue. As they head back to Brown Chapel, the line turns at the courthouse so that every single marcher, Black and white, shares in the small victory of reaching the courthouse steps.
For the Movement, the courthouse march is an encouraging win. And with the "Selma Wall" now broken, there is no need to resume the vigil. The daily mass meetings continue, filled with fervor and expectation as Selma Blacks and outside supporters await President Johnson's speech and Judge Johnson's injunction ruling. The city police return to their normal duties and the possemen bitterly slink away, their sense of defeat palpable. The state troopers remain nearby to prevent any attempt to cross the bridge, but they too sense that the tide is turning (Reeb 1-5).
WASHINGTON: In a televised address to the nation, President Johnson presents the draft Voting Rights Act to a joint session of Congress. Every single senator and representative from Mississippi and Virginia boycott the session as do other southern members. His speech is titled, "The American Promise," and in it, he forthrightly condemns the denial of fundamental rights based on race and the nation's failure to live up to the promise of its creed (President 1).
It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote,” Johnson said in his slow Texas drawl, and he reviewed all the obstacles to Negro voting in the South. His bill proposed to abolish these impediments through federal overseers who would supervise registration in segregated counties—exactly what King had been demanding. With Congress interrupting him repeatedly with applause, Johnson pointed out that “at times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.” But “even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement... the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.” In closing he spoke out of his south Texas past and his own brush with poverty and racism as a young schoolteacher. “Their cause must be our cause too. Because it’s not just Negroes, but really it’s all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. ” He added slowly and deliberately, “And we shall overcome!”
Congress exploded in a standing ovation, the second of the night, indicating that the passage of Johnson’s bill was certain. As television cameras swept the hall, King wept. “President Johnson,” he said later, “made one of the most eloquent, unequivocal, and passionate pleas for human rights ever made by the President of the United States” (Oates 33-34).
An estimated 70 million Americans listen to the President's address, none more intently than the freedom soldiers fighting what almost amounts to a second civil war in the Black Belt of Alabama.
... we listened to Lyndon Johnson make what many others and I consider not only the finest speech of his career, but probably the strongest speech any American president has ever made on the subject of civil rights. ... I was deeply moved. Lyndon Johnson was no politician that night. He was a man who spoke from his heart. His were the words of a statesman and more, they were the words of a poet. Dr. King must have agreed. He wiped away a tear at the point where Johnson said the words, "We shall overcome." — John Lewis, SNCC
MONTGOMERY: Not everyone shares that view. In Montgomery, the SNCC and student demonstrators are still trapped and surrounded by police on a dark street near the Capitol. They listen to LBJ's speech on a tiny transistor radio held aloft in a protester's hand. For many SNCC field secretaries who have endured years of federal indifference, liberal betrayal, and Washington complicity with segregation, his words ring hollow and his hypocrisy is unbearable.
To us, they were tinkling, empty symbols. Johnson also spoiled a good song that day, for to sing "We Shall Overcome" after that speech was to reawaken the sense of hypocrisy created by his use of the three words. — James Forman, SNCC
SELMA: Yet to the embattled men, women, and children of Alabama's Black Belt, Johnson's speech is a ringing endorsement of their courage and struggle. And it's a promise that their suffering and sacrifice will not be in vain.
I remember lying on the living room floor in front of the set, watching, listening. It seemed he was speaking directly to me. "The effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessing of American life must be our cause, too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really, it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome." When he said that all the people in the room, my sisters, my parents, the ministers, all cried out and applauded. I just lay there watching, listening. Somebody had heard us. ... Except for that one time, we just listened quietly. Once in a while I'd hear my mother or father agree with an, "Um-hmm," but that was all. I remember after his speech going over to Sheyann's, and she was just sitting there in the living room, thinking about it. And I said, "You hear that speech?" And she says, "I heard it." Then after a long time she said, "But he's there in Washington, and we be down here by ourselves." — Rachel West, Selma student, 8 years old (President 2-5).

Tuesday, March 16

MONTGOMERY: In Judge Johnson's courtroom, SCLC lawyers submit a detailed proposal for a march to Montgomery under federal protection. Unknown to them, the judge has received a personal phone call from U.S. Attorney General Katzenbach. No one knows what was said between them, but now, suddenly, after days of delay, the judge begins moving with alacrity. Rather than taking days to ponder the imponderable, he ends the session by announcing he will hand down his ruling on the morrow (Tuesday 1).

Works cited:
“Death of Rev. Reeb.” The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.
“Friday, March 12 through Sunday, March 14.” The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.
“Monday, March 15.” The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.
Oates, Stephen B. “The Week The World Watched Selma.” American Heritage, 1982, Volume 33, Issue 4. Web.
“President Johnson: "We Shall Overcome." The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.
“Protests and Police Violence Continue in Montgomery.” The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.
“Reeb Memorial March in Selma.” The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.
“Thursday, March 11.” The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.
“Tuesday, March 16.” The March to Montgomery (Mar). Civil Rights Movement History 1965: Selma & the March to Montgomery. Civil Rights Movement History & Timeline. Web.