Thursday, August 4, 2011

James Ford Seale, murderer of two black teenagers in '64, dies in prison

James Ford Seale, who was convicted of murdering two black teenagers in 1964, has died in prison:

James Ford Seale, convicted in 2007 in connection with the 1964 killings of two black teenagers in southwest Mississippi, died Tuesday in federal prison.

Seale, 76, had been serving three life sentences at the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Ind.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of his conviction in connection with the abduction, beatings and killings of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. The bodies of the 19-year-olds were found on the Louisiana side of the old Mississippi River.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Monday would have been Emmett Till's 70th birthday

Monday, July 25, would have been Emmett Till's 70th birthday. Till, of course, was only 14 when he was murdered in 1955 in Money, Mississippi.

Freedom Riders honored in return to Mississippi

Freedom Riders were honored this week in their return to Mississippi, a half-century after their initial arrival in Jackson:

By 1961, Mary Jean Smith had been a part of sit-ins and received training for nonviolent protest, but she wasn't ready to challenge segregated travel in the Deep South until she sat behind two white passengers on a city bus in Tennessee.

"They had a transistor radio and were listening to reports about the Freedom Riders. One of them said, 'I hope all those niggers die.' It did something to me. I went into another world," she said Tuesday.

Smith, a Tennessee State University student, volunteered to be part of the next group of riders who would head south through civil rights battlegrounds in Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. Along the route, they were beaten and their buses were burned. Eventually, they were arrested and thrown into the Mississippi State Penitentiary.

On Tuesday — 50 years to the day after the first wave of riders arrived at the Jackson terminal — a celebration was held for them in Mississippi's capital. They were welcomed by Gov. Haley Barbour, Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers, Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. and hundreds of high school and college students, who called them heroes.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Waring dissent paved way for Brown v. Board of Education

An article in the latest issue of the National Law Journal explains how a dissent from Judge J. Waites Waring in the Briggs v. Elliott case paved the way for the U. S. Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education:

On the morning of the federal court trial, a large group of the plaintiffs and their supporters traveled by caravan from Summerton to Charleston to witness what would be one of the most important legal proceedings in American history. Hundreds lined up in the courthouse, on the stairs leading to the courtroom and onto the street for a chance to see and hear the legal attack on their second-class status. They were not disappointed. They observed the testimony of witnesses describing the profound disparities in the educational facilities and resources provided the black and white children of their community. They heard what would become the historic expert testimony of psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark as he described his "doll studies" and opined that segregation stigmatized and injured their children. But what thrilled the plaintiffs the most was the searing cross-examination by their lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, as he questioned the defendants' star witness, ultimately forcing him to admit that, at least in part, his testimony was based on a lifelong belief in racial segregation.

But this was South Carolina, the year was 1951 and the doctrine of Plessy was deeply ingrained in the region's culture. Several weeks after the completion of the Briggs trial, in June 1951, the three-judge panel issued a predictable decision, holding that racial segregation of the schools was a matter of state legislative policy in which the federal courts were "powerless to interfere." What was not predictable was the stirring 20-page dissent by Waring, who concluded that "segregation in education can never produce equality.…Segregation is per se inequality." Waring described segregation as an "evil" that "must go and go now."

Waring's improbable journey on race began after his appointment to the federal bench in 1942. Civil rights cases on his docket slowly opened him to a view of his native city and state that he had never considered as a prosperous attorney and member of elite social societies in Charleston. He started modestly, ending segregation in his courtroom. Beginning in the mid-1940s, Waring issued a series of opinions equalizing the pay of black teachers and requiring the state to admit black students to the University of South Carolina School of Law or to open an equal law school for African-Americans. Waring crossed the racial Rubicon in 1948, when he ordered the state Demo­cratic Party to end its "white primary" and to allow black South Carolinians to vote in the only election that then mattered in the state. Waring soon found himself a social pariah in his native state. Politicians called for his impeachment, death threats were constant and crosses were burned in his yard.

Shortly after issuing his historic dissent in Briggs, Waring turned 70 and became eligible for judicial retirement. He quietly submitted his notice of retirement to the president, and he and his wife moved to New York City. There, he watched as Briggs and other school-segregation cases wound their way onto the Supreme Court's docket. In all of these cases, from Kansas, Delaware, Virginia, the District of Columbia and South Carolina, only Waring concluded that segregation in public education, even if equalized, was incompatible with the 14th Amendment. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court, echoing the words and reasoning of Waring's dissent, concluded in Brown that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." On the night of the Brown decision, Walter White, the president of the NAACP, and other civil rights leaders journeyed to Waring's small Upper East Side apartment to thank him personally for the courage and vision of his dissent.

Several years after the Brown decision, Waring and Chief Justice Earl Warren, who authored the Supreme Court's unanimous order, had a chance encounter. Waring told the chief justice, "I was greatly relieved when you decided that Clarendon school case. I'd been very lonely up to that time." Warren responded to the retired Southern jurist, essentially living in exile, "Well, you had to do it the hard way."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mitchell blog: Records show Klan leader, 77, involved in abduction of murdered civil rights workers

Jackson Clarion-Ledget reporter Jerry Mitchell. in his latest blog entry, writes about a former KKK leader, still alive, who was involved in plotting the kidnapping of murdered civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, in 1964:

My story in today’s Clarion-Ledger details the case against reputed Klan leader Pete Harris, now 77. Let’s look at them in order:

1) In spring 1964, he and Klansman James Jordan visited Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, who was quoted by Jordan as remarking that civil rights worker Mickey Schwerner was “a thorn in the side of everyone living, especially the white people, and that he should be taken care of.”

2) In spring 1964, Harris attended key Klan meetings where Klansmen discussed “eliminating” civil rights worker Mickey Schwerner.

3) On June 16, 1964, Harris was present at a Neshoba County meeting, where Klansmen left and beat members of the Mt. Zion Methodist Church and then burned their church.

4) On the evening of the killings, June 21, 1964, Killen gathered Klansmen, including Harris, at Akin mobile homes sales lot in Meridian, according to testimony. Earlier that day, Neshoba County Deputy Cecil Price had arrested three civil rights workers, including Schwerner, James Chaney and Andy Goodman. Killen told Klansmen that the civil rights workers were being held in jail and “needed their rear ends torn up,” according to testimony.

Jordan testified Harris made telephone calls, gathering more Klansmen for the job. When the Klansmen gathered to leave, Jordan said Harris told them he had to stay behind because he was a leader in the Klan.

That night, Klansmen intercepted the trio, killing them and burying their bodies 15 feet down in an earthen dam. But all the world knew on June 22, 1964, was that they were missing.

5) Jordan testified that a month after the killings he and Harris met with Bowers, who praised their work in eliminating the three civil rights workers.

Jordan testified Bowers urged them to get rid of their weapons and to stay quiet.

Don Cochran, a former prosecutor, said he believes there is almost enough evidence in the transcript alone to bring a case against Harris.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Identity of informant in murder of three civil rights workers still in question

In an article published today in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Jerry Mitchell explores the continuing mystery of the identity of the informant who told police how to find three civil rights workers in 1964, leading to their murders:

FBI records obtained by The Clarion-Ledger show three separate Klansmen-turned-informants for the FBI told agents that Price or the Neshoba County Sheriff's Department were tipped off by someone here in Longdale, an African-American community off Mississippi 19 nine miles east of Philadelphia.

Around lunchtime June 21, 1964, civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner arrived at the ashes of what once had been the Mount Zion Methodist Church, investigating what had happened. They spoke with church members, including Ernest Kirkland and Cornelius Steele, and interviewed Bud Cole, who had been severely beaten by Klansmen.

Minutes after they turned onto Mississippi 19, Deputy Cecil Price arrested them. That night, he released them into the hands of waiting Klansmen, who killed and buried the trio.

"You can conclude without a doubt there was an informant in the Longdale community," Ratliff said.

Back in 1964, the FBI investigated the informant question. One Longdale resident told the FBI that Clarence Hill was an informant for Sheriff Lawrence Rainey.

Hill, now 86, told The Clarion-Ledger that accusation is a lie.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Original Freedom Rider Ben Cox laid to rest

Funeral services for Rev. Ben Cox, one of the original Freedom Riders, were held Saturday:

The Rev. Dennis Blalock called Cox a "good soldier" in his eulogy, saying Cox had suffered and endured.
"True bravery is a spirit," Blalock said.
Cox rode buses in 1961 into segregated Southern states to protest transportation systems that, according to a PBS website about the civil rights movement, kept white and black patrons from sitting together on buses, trains and trolley cars.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How Hattiesburg, Mississippi, kept from having trouble with Freedom Riders

Jerry Mitchell of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, who continues to offer one remarkable story after another about the American civil rights movement, has another one in today's edition.

In it, Mitchell reveals the previously untold story of how Hattiesburg,Mississippi kept from having trouble with the Freedom Riders, with an interview of longtime Hattiesburg civil leader Bobby Chain:

Chain said the idea was simple: Let the Freedom Riders hold protests and provocations in peace. There would be no angry mob scenes, no retaliation.

"We met every morning at 7 o'clock to plan for the day's events," Chain said. "The places where we knew these people would go, we visited privately with (the owners/managers/proprietors), whichever one of us could best talk with them. We said, 'Now look, if (Freedom Riders) come talk to you, you be nice to them and no problems.'
"We got the bus stations to take down the 'white only' signs. We got the right people to see to that, too. This group we had, these were powerful men."

A search of issues of the Hattiesburg American from May though August 1961 had front-page news of the Riders - "mixers" as they also were referred to in the headlines - and their arrests in Jackson and other Southern cities.

But there were no stories of arrests or incidents involving the Riders during that summer in Hattiesburg.

Chain said the group stayed mostly behind the scenes. Had word gotten out, "(t)his probably wouldn't have been popular with some segment of our population, had they known what we were doing, but it never got out, and we kept this group together for two or three years because we didn't know how long (the Riders) would keep coming, and we had a few stragglers in the years after that."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ex-FBI agent recalls Mississippi murders

Former FBI Special Agent Floyd Thomas told a group of Massachusetts High School students this week about the investigation into the disappearance of three civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner,James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman in 1964, and the subsequent discovery of their bodies and investigation into the murders:

The students sat quietly, listening to Thomas as he recounted the facts, the investigation and the outcome of one of the South's most publicized murder cases.

"I was a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigations 1951 to 1973," he said, beginning his tale.

The Freedom Summer Murders were attributed to Ku Klux Klan members in Philadelphia, Miss. Thomas spent three months away from his family in Arkansas investigating the case.

"I received a phone call from headquarters advising me to leave immediately and go to Meridian, Miss.," he said.

He continued, "Down in the area of Philadelphia, there had been three people reported missing down there, plus a rented station wagon."

A bystander's tip led Thomas and his partner to look through the woods nearby, where they located a station wagon matching the description of the missing vehicle.

"You could just barely see it in the weeds out there — the top of a vehicle. The doors were partially open...and everything that was flammable was burned."

"The outside of the car wasn't burned or anything, and the weeds weren't burned, so they had it towed in," he continued, "So now we had found our vehicle, but still had three missing persons."

Thomas let the group in on the methods he used when working a case, saying, "Working a crime investigation is just like putting a jigsaw puzzle together.

"You've got all these pieces and you've got to get the pieces all together to get the picture," he said.

Thomas and his partner then learned that the three missing individuals had been arrested some time previously and detained at the Philadelphia jail after a traffic stop.

It's believed that during their detainment, the sheriff conspired with local KKK members to release the three men in time for them to be intercepted on the highway by men with bad intentions.

Thomas and his partner worked with a local naval base to use ultraviolet photos viewing recently disturbed plots of land.

"So we dug all that. We had 30 sailors from over at the base there helping us drag ponds," he said, adding a brief anecdote about other pastimes the sailors found to entertain themselves.

"I don't know how much money the government spent on chickens," he said with a chuckle.

He explained, "Those sailors figured out they could throw a fire cracker into the chicken houses and when it went off all the chickens around would suffocate. They had dead chickens scattered around all over there."

Thomas spent his time checking for decomposition in the soil and looking for new construction sites.

It was in one such location, a dam still under construction, where Thomas and the other investigators found the bodies of the missing men 44 days after they vanished.

Thomas continued, "I heard on the radio just before I got there — 'I think we found them. We found a shoe heel.'"

"The shoe heel turned out to be the shoe heel of one of the boys that was buried in the dam."

He described how the men were laying, the intricate procedure of trying to excavate the bodies without destroying the evidence and a joke Thomas attempted that "went over like a lead balloon" with the man he told it to.

"We got to this one kid, and he had a little place under his arm here," Thomas said as he pointed to his left side.

"You've got to have a little humor to go along, or else you'll go nuts," he said.

"I said to the kid in the hole with me, 'This guy's been hurt! Go get us a doctor!'"

The man climbed out of the hole, now at 25 feet deep, and reported to those around, "This guy's crazy. Obviously (the victim)'s dead, he's been down there for three months."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Freedom Riders reunite after 50 years

The BBC has an article on the reuniting of the original Freedom Riders in Jackson, Mississippi, last week:

Back in 1961, Jim Crow customs ruled the Deep South. Despite a Supreme Court ruling making segregation on interstate buses illegal, black passengers were still expected to sit at the back.

The Freedom Riders refused to abide by convention, infuriating the white supremacists of the Ku Klux Klan.

On 14 May, a white mob attacked a Greyhound bus carrying Hank Thomas and six other activists as well as regular passengers, near Anniston, Alabama.

Hezekiah Watkins was one of the Freedom Riders Its tyres were slashed, and the bus hissed to a halt. A firebomb was lobbed through the back window, filling the air with poisonous smoke.

"I knew I was going to die," recalls Thomas, aged 19 at the time. "It was a question of the best way to do it: leave the bus and be beaten to death, or stay and burn?"

An exploding fuel tank saved his life. The crowd retreated, allowing the suffocating passengers to clamber free.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

John Lewis asks graduates to build a better society

During a graduation speech at University of Mary Washington Saturday, Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga. one of the original Freedom Riders and a civil rights pioneer, urged the graduates to "build a better society."

The school issued the following news release:

Civil rights icon John Lewis called on the University of Mary Washington class of 2011 to build a better society, urging the graduates to challenge injustices as he delivered the undergraduate commencement address on Saturday, May 7.

“You must stand up. You must speak up. You must speak out,” said Lewis, a Democratic congressman from Georgia. “You must create a world community at peace with itself.”

Lewis, a 1961 Freedom Rider, praised the university for its three-month tribute to the Freedom Rides and to their architect, the late civil rights leader James Farmer who taught at Mary Washington. The Freedom Rides successfully defied segregated interstate bus travel and facilities in the South.

“No other college in America is pausing like you have to celebrate and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides,” he said. “I come here to say thank you, thank you.”

“The University of Mary Washington is a bright light in the education of all of our citizens about the issues of civil rights, human rights and social justice,” he said. “You have discovered that the cause of civil rights is not just the legacy of…one people, but all Americans. We all must play a role in helping to build a just and open society.”

Lewis spoke to about 5.000 people, including graduates, family members, friends and faculty, gathered in Ball Circle for the 100th annual commencement. The university awarded a total of 1,295 degrees in the May 7 undergraduate ceremony and the May 6 graduate ceremony, including 450 bachelor of arts degrees, 42 bachelor of liberal studies degrees, 92 bachelor of professional studies degrees and 459 bachelor of science degrees, as well as 252 master’s degrees.

In his remarks, Lewis recalled his upbringing in Alabama. Born to sharecroppers in 1940, he attended segregated public schools. “Whites only” signs were commonplace. “As a young child, I tasted the bitter fruits of segregation and racial discrimination,” Lewis said. When he questioned his parents about segregation, they said “that’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get in trouble.”

But as a teenager, Lewis was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. aired on radio broadcasts “as if he were speaking to me…to get involved.” In those pivotal moments, Lewis made a decision to become a part of the Civil Rights movement.

“I got in trouble,” he said. “It was good trouble. Necessary trouble. James (Farmer) and the Freedom Riders 50 years ago got in trouble. Necessary trouble. Good trouble to bring down those signs that said ‘white men, colored men, white women, colored women.’ Those signs are gone and they will not return.”

“Your children, the only place they’ll see those signs is in a book, in a museum, on a video. We live in a better country. We’re on our way to the creation of a beloved community where we can lay down the burden of race and create a society where we can forget about race.”

Lewis was a student at Fisk University when he organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tenn. At 21, he “had all my hair and was a few pounds lighter” when he joined the Freedom Rides, he recalled. Lewis endured vicious beatings at the hands of angry mobs and, in all, more than 40 arrests for challenging segregation. Yet he remained a devoted advocate of nonviolence.

“You must never ever give up. You must never ever give in,” he said. “Get out there and push and pull, and do your part to create a loving community in redeeming the soul of America. You can do it. You must do it.”

During the height of the Civil Rights movement, Lewis helped organize and chair the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that was responsible for coordinating student activism. He was a young man when he was deemed one of the “Big Six” leaders of the movement along with King and Farmer.

Farmer, who taught history at Mary Washington for about a dozen years, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton in 1998. This year, Lewis himself received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, who as Lewis noted was born the year of the 1961 Rides.

In concluding his remarks, Lewis urged the graduates to make a commitment to justice, no matter how difficult the path.

“My friends, the storms may come. The winds may blow. The thunder may roll. The lightning may flash. And the rain may be beat down on our old house. Call it the house of UMW,” Lewis said. “Call it the house of Virginia. Call it the house of Georgia or California or New York. Call it the house of Alabama. Call it the American house. We all live in the same house.”

“I say to you as you leave this university, as you leave this little piece of real estate, you still have the power to change the social, economic and political structures around you. You still have the power to lead a nonviolent revolution of values and ideas in your community and around the world. If you use that power, if you use your education, use your talent, use your skills, use that power, then a new and better world is yours to build.”

“So I say to you today, walk with the wind. Let the spirit of history, the spirit of UMW, and the spirit of the Freedom Rides be your guide.”

Following the address, Daniel K. Steen, rector of the university’s Board of Visitors, conferred an honorary doctor of humane letters degree on Lewis.

He has been awarded over 50 honorary degrees from universities throughout the United State. He also holds a B.A. in religion and philosophy from Fisk University, and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Nashville, Tennessee.

Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986 and has served as U.S. representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since then. He is Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party in leadership in the House and is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and chairman of its Subcommittee on Oversight.

Two years ago, Lewis was visited in his office by a man who had encountered Lewis on May 9, 1961 in Rock Hill, S.C. The man, who was a Klansman in 1961, had beaten Lewis that day in South Carolina. Nearly 48 years later, the man came to apologize to Lewis and to ask for forgiveness.

“He started crying. He gave me a hug. I started crying and I hugged him back,” Lewis said. “That is what the movement was all about – to build a sense of community. We all live in the same house because we are one people.”

Freedom Riders say today's youth disconnected from battle against racism

In an article in today's Washington Post, the legacy of the Freedom Rides, which took place 50 years ago, is combined with a look at today's young people:

One of the youngest of the riders, Hezekiah Watkins, is now 63 years old and lives across town from Lovelady in Jackson. He has found himself thinking the same thing when he looks at his 21-year-old daughter, Kristie. In recent weeks, as he has given interviews and speeches about his experience during the rides, he has juxtaposed his teenage years with hers.

“A lot of times, she feels as though somebody owes her. I’m always asking, ‘What are you owed and by whom?’ ” Watkins said. “I talked to all of my kids about the ’60s and what we went through. They’ll just look at me like, ‘It’s not relevant.’ My thing has always been this: You’re standing on a banana peel, and any given day you could slip.”

For Hank Thomas, who was 19 when he joined the Freedom Riders, the contrast between his experiences and those of young people today could not be more stark.

Fifty years ago, the sacrifice was unambiguous. Forcing integration on the South meant putting your body on the line. It meant buying a bus ticket down to Jackson after hearing about the bus firebombed in Anniston and the men and women beaten in Birmingham and Montgomery.

“You never knew what was going to happen,” Thomas said, remembering the anxiety of the times.

Thomas, a black businessman, lives outside Atlanta. He owns three McDonald’s franchises and three Marriott hotels. When he was in the first group of 13 riders, launched with little fanfare by the Congress of Racial Equity, they called themselves the “young eagles.” Thomas jokes now that they are the “bald eagles.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. considered that first ride a fool’s errand, and at one point he declined an invitation to board the bus with the students. The young felt haughty about going where the leader of the civil rights movement would not dare. Their protest, in retrospect, is credited with giving the nonviolent movement a template for future campaigns.

Monday, May 2, 2011

John Lewis to be honored at NAACP dinner

Congressman John Lewis a civil rights pioneer, will be honored at a NAACP dinner today in Detroit:

Civil Rights pioneer and U.S. Rep. John Lewis and musician Kid Rock will share the spotlight today at the Detroit NAACP branch’s annual Fight for Freedom Fund dinner at Cobo Center.

Lewis, who grew up in racially segregated Pike County, Ala., just miles from where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was leading a movement to end segregation on Montgomery’s buses, is the keynote speaker.

Inspired by King, Lewis organized marches, led lunch-counter sit-ins, helped integrate interstate bus systems and organized voter education and registration drives.

Lewis became a symbol of the movement when he and other protesters were attacked by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they tried to march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. So horrifying was the attack that it became known as Bloody Sunday.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Freedom Riders to appear on Oprah

As part of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, some of those who participated in the historic civil rights actions will appear on the Oprah show:

This week Oprah Winfrey will tape a TV show in Chicago with some of the Freedom Riders who long ago trekked courageously to the South to press for civil rights.

Imagine, two of those surviving activists from the front lines in the fight against segregation are Santa Rosans.

Retired pastor Francis Geddes, 87, is one. Geddes, now a member of Church of the Incarnation, was locked up in 1961 as part of an interracial group that agitated to integrate the coffee shop at Mississippi's Jackson Airport.

“What I learned from being jailed in Jackson,” he said as he prepared to fly to meet Oprah and his fellow Freedom Riders, “is that I didn't have to be afraid of anything else in my life.”

CHICAGO BECKONS also to Santa Rosa's George Houser, who first opposed Jim Crow in the South not with the Freedom Rides that began on May 4 of 1961 but with the 1947 anti-segregation campaign that inspired the Rides.

Houser, who's 94, was a leader of the ‘47 Journey of Reconciliation. He and late African-American civil rights leader Bayard Rustin and others boarded Trailways and Greyhound coaches in Southern states to test the Supreme Court's 1946 landmark decision barring segregation on interstate buses.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

$550,000 grant to be used to preserve "Eyes on the Prize" footage

Unedited interviews of footage from the groundbreaking civil rights documentary "Eyes on the Prize" will be preserved, thanks to a $550,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to Washington University:

The original documentary film and interview footage were donated to the University Libraries in 2001 as part of the Henry Hampton Collection. The collection is one of the largest archives of civil rights media in the United States and contains materials on other topics as well.

“Hampton’s Eyes on the Prize remains the definitive work on the American civil rights movement, even more than 20 years after its release,” says Shirley K. Baker, vice chancellor for scholarly resources and dean of University Libraries. “With the generous assistance of the Mellon Foundation, Washington University can continue to protect and preserve these priceless archives for students, scholars and the general public for generations to come.”

Among those interviewed for the documentary were Curtis Jones, cousin of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy murdered in Mississippi in 1955; Coretta Scott King, wife of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; and Burke Marshall, head of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice during the Kennedy administration. The footage from all these interviews and many more is held at the Film & Media Archive, a unit of the University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections.

“These records are a crucial part of Americans’ cultural history and heritage,” says James E. McLeod, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and vice chancellor for students. “This partnership between Washington University and the Mellon Foundation ensures that both the documentary itself, along with the interviews that gave life to its stories, will always be available as a source of information and inspiration.”

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Robert Redford to play Branch Rickey in new Jackie Robinson film

Robert Redford, star of one of the all-time great baseball movies, The Natural, will return to the diamond as star of a new biography of Jackie Robinson:

The focus of the story is about the relationship between Robinson and Rickey, who is responsible for integrating the sport in America, as well as other innovations including the use of batting helmets. Author Jimmy Breslin's new biography of Rickey was released March 17.

"No one really knows the Rickey part, the political maneuvers and the partnership they had to share," Redford told the Los Angeles Times, which reported the announcement. "It's the story underneath the story you thought you knew."

Freedom Rider Joan Mulholland speaks at Central Virginia Community College

As the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Freedom Rides, continues, Freedom Rider Joan Mulholland shared her experiences with an audience at Central Virginia Community College this week:
“I was a white Southerner and I felt we had a responsible to live out the best of our culture, to do unto others that which is done unto you,” said Mulholland during the panel discussion. “I just felt that things were terribly wrong, we were not practicing what we preached.”

Comprised mostly of black and white college students, the Freedom Riders travelled on trains and buses across the South in 1961, determined to break down the barriers of segregation. They journeyed through Virginia on their way to the deep South, including one stop in Lynchburg.

Wearing a T-shirt bearing the word “ERACISM,” Mulholland gave a first-hand account of her role in the Freedom Rides, which got her arrested and jailed at Mississippi’s notorious Parchman State Prison Farm.

“Fear is counterproductive and it slows you down from doing what needs doing,” Mulholland said.

Half a century later, Mulholland is a mother of five sons and has taught for 30 years in Arlington County public schools. She calls her decision to join the Freedom Rides one of the most important in her life.

“The ’50s had been really boring, but suddenly it was like wildfire and who knows what will start a wildfire,” she said, urging the younger generation to continue the fight against prejudice. “Something will happen. Be ready for it and look out for it,"

David French, surgeon for the civil rights movement, dies

David French, a surgeon who helped victims of racial violence during civil rights demonstrations of the '60s, died March 31 at age 86:

The health care provider and public servant organized first-aid efforts during major civil rights marches, including the historic –and bloody--voting rights march from Selma, Ala. to that state’s capitol in Montgomery in 1965 that was led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

During one Mississippi protest in 1966, French and his wife Carolyn Howard used their family van as an ambulance to provide first aid for casualties when the non-violent demonstrators were attacked by locals, including police, opposed to the civil rights march on the state capitol, according to a Washington Post obituary.

Friday, April 8, 2011

60 Minutes plans stories on unsolved 1964 murder of Louis Alen

On his blog, Jackson Clarion-Ledger reporter Jerry Mitchell, who has been instrumental in bringing attention to unsolved murders of the civil rights era, notes that CBS' 60 Minutes is doing a piece on the unsolved 1964 murder of Louis Allen:

Hank Allen, the son of Louis Allen, believes retired sheriff Daniel Jones had something to do with his father’s 1964 ambush killing.

60 Minutes is airing a story on the cold case at 6 p.m. CDT Sunday, April 10, on CBS.

FBI records from 1964 name Jones as a suspected member of the Ku Klux Klan — an allegation Jones later admitted to the FBI.

In an interview with Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes, Jones was asked if he could say he had nothing to do with the murder.

“No sir, I wasn’t involved in it,” he responded.

Told he could clear the whole thing up by taking a lie detector test, Jones replied to Kroft, “Well, then it ain’t getting cleared up.”

A preview of the program can be found at this link.

Monday, April 4, 2011

New book names trigger man in Malcolm X assassination

A new book published today offers startling revelations about the assassination of Malcolm X:

After Malcolm X was gunned down in 1965 at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, three men — who viewed him as an enemy and hypocrite for renouncing the Nation of Islam — were quickly arrested and prosecuted. The case was closed for law enforcement, but many have doubted that police captured the right men.

Marable, who began studying Malcolm X in 1969 and founded the African American studies program at Columbia University, uses the biography, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” to search for answers and name five alleged conspirators. Only one has served time for the crime.

While the 592-page book also examines Malcolm X’s life, it is the research into his death, which publisher Viking Press describes as “the never-before-told true story of his assassination,” that could prove most controversial. Marable goes further than any other mainstream scholar in pointing to specific individuals who he alleges plotted to kill the minister. The man who fired the first and deadliest shot, Marable alleges, is still alive, while another conspirator has died. The book does not include definitive information about the fate or whereabouts of the other two.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King contributions honored in Missouri ceremony

The contributions of two women of the civil rights era, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, were recognized during a program in Cape Girardeau Sunday:

Several speakers, singers and dancers were part of the sixth annual Memorial Tribute, which committee director Debra Mitchell-Braxton said is to recognize Women's History Month and to bring Parks' and King's legacy to life.

"Rosa Parks was the 'mother' of the civil rights movement and Coretta King was the 'first lady,'" Mitchell-Braxton said. "What we're trying to do is keep the dreams of these two women alive. You have to have leaders; we need more leaders in our community."

The congregation's singers performed a gospel song, "I'm Still Holding On," about keeping God close in order to deal with struggles.

"When I first heard it I was going through a lot," choir member Gwen McGee said. "But, these last 20 years have been good."

Speakers highlighted the women's accomplishments, among them fighting for peace and resisting racial segregation, and youth from House of Prayer performed a play focusing on the history of the African-American culture and the importance of God in its history.

Geneva Allen, a member of St. James, called the women "she-roes" who fought for the rights black Americans and women have today. Both women were Christians and both fought for equality, she said.

"Thanks to God that they were both trailblazers," she said.

King biographer Taylor Branch laments downfall of non-violence

During a speech in a Baltimore church, historian Taylor Branch, author of an acclaimed three-part biography of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, lamented the disappearance of the non-violence philosphy that King used during the civil rights movement:

"We don't really understand the dividends that nonviolence has paid," he said of the strategy for social change.

"Nonviolence set off a broad and wonderful expanse of freedom. It was not just the gains made for black people," he said. "Later, women's rights advanced out of this movement. So did the rights of gays and the disabled people who had been shunted aside."

He said that King and other civil rights leaders used nonviolence as a valuable and "potent tool" in the 1960s, particularly in Mississippi, during the era of the Freedom Riders and the peaceful protests. "For Martin Luther King, nonviolence was a leadership doctrine," he said.

But by the time of King's death in 1968, it was being discredited by others in the movement as being "old-fashioned" and "pious." He cited Stokely Carmichael and others as deflecting attention away from the nonviolent philosophy as they advanced their own, more strident approaches.

"Stokely Carmichael became more fashionable," said Branch. "Nonviolence became nonrespectable in the New York Review of Books."

Hank Thomas, original Freedom Rider, honored by Mississippi Senate

Hank Thomas, one of the original Freedom Riders, was honored by the Mississippi Senate last week:

Thomas says when he rode to Jackson he was not even allowed in the Capitol building because of his race.

"This is my first time ever in this capitol. So you can imagine as I am thinking "50 years ago...". No, as the Senator said I wouldn't even be allowed in here. And to get this kind of honor, it gave me chills," Thomas said.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New book profiles Branch Rickey, the man who signed Jackie Robinson

The Albany Times Union has the lowdown today on a new biography of the legendary baseball genius Branch Rickey, written by Jimmy Breslin.

Rickey was the Brooklyn Dodgers executive who signed Jackie Robinson to break the major league color barrier:

Breslin's new book, "Branch Rickey: An American Life," tells a classic American bootstrap story. With belief in hard work and faith in God and in the equality of all men, Branch Rickey climbed from poverty to success in the quintessential American industry: baseball. Breslin shows us that when we talk about Jackie's courage, we have to acknowledge Rickey's courage, too.

Robinson is, of course, a role model, for anyone who has to face being a "first." Branch Rickey is also a model, showing us that making a profit doesn't have to be separate from making social change.

Few of us will have the opportunity to enact history in the dramatic way that Jackie Robinson did. But we all have opportunities to be like Branch Rickey, who ensured the moment could happen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March 15 anniversary of President Johnson's call for Voting Rights Act

Yesterday, March 15, was the 46th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's call for a National Voting Rights Act in the wake of Bloody Sunday in Selma:

“I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy,” Johnson began. “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.”

“Their cause must be our cause, too,” Johnson said. All Americans “must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

The White House drafted legislation, which arrived on Capitol Hill on March 17, that banned literacy tests, named federal vote registrars and imposed federal penalties on anyone who interfered with voting in local, state or federal elections.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Today would have been Ralph Abernathy's 85th birthday

Civil rights pioneer Ralph Abernathy, known as Martin Luther King's right hand man, was born 85 years ago today:
At age 26, Abernathy became full-time minister at the First Baptist Church, Montgomery’s largest black congregation. Three years later, a man he’d met while at school in Atlanta became minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. The two soon became good friends. That man’s name was Martin Luther King Jr.

The turning point in Abernathy’s life – and indeed, a turning point for life in America – came on December 1, 1955 when a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus to make way for white riders. She was a coworker of Abernathy’s at the NAACP, and her arrest led King and Abernathy to form the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) in order to organize a boycott protesting Montgomery’s policy of segregated busing.

Three quarters of the city’s bus patrons were black, and the well-organized boycott had an immediate impact. When King was arrested and given a sentence of 386 days in jail, it brought national attention to the protest. The boycott would last over a year, until December 1956, when a federal ruling found bus segregation to be unconstitutional. Angry whites responded by firebombing Abernathy’s home and church, as well as those of King.

The boycott made Martin Luther King Jr. a nationally known figure, his impassioned speeches turning him into the face of the Civil Rights Movement while Abernathy remained largely in the background. The two men formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, with the aim of taking what they had learned in Montgomery and spreading organized, nonviolent civil rights protests throughout the South.

During the next thirteen years, King's and Abernathy’s tireless leadership brought the struggle for civil rights to Albany, Birmingham, Mississippi, Washington, Selma, St. Augustine, Chicago and Memphis as they helped spearhead marches, sit-ins, and other non-violent actions aimed at winning equal rights for African Americans. Abernathy was with King when he delivered the famous “I Have a Dream” speech during the August 28, 1963 March on Washington that helped gain passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).

FBI reopening investigation into 1965 murder of minister in Selma

The FBI is reopening the investigation into the 1965 beating death of Unitarian minister James Reeb in Selma, Ala.:

In 1965, three men — Elmer Cook, William Stanley Hoggle and Namon O’Neal Hoggle — were tried for murder, but the all-white jury acquitted the trio, despite testimony identifying the attackers.

A fourth man indicted, R.B. Kelley, was never prosecuted. He gave authorities the names of those he said attacked the ministers.

He denied playing a role himself, but police found a club in his car, according to FBI records.

At least one of those men, Namon O’Neal ‘Duck’ Hoggle, is alive.

Decades later, questions remain about the fairness of the trial. One juror, Harry Vardaman, was the brother of a key defense witness, Ben Vardaman. During jury selection, the judge refused to dismiss two white potential jurors who admitted they despised white civil rights workers for sharing meals with black Southerners.

All 13 black potential jurors were struck from the panel, causing the jury to be all white.

During the trial, defense lawyer Joe Pilcher suggested to jurors that “certain civil rights groups have to have a martyr, and they were willing to let Reeb die.”

In March 1965, Reeb, 38, traveled to Alabama in response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s invitation to ministers to join the Selma to Montgomery March. So did his friends and fellow Unitarian ministers, Clark Olsen and Orloff Miller.

On the night of March 9, the three white ministers had just finished dinner in downtown Selma at Walker’s Cafe, a historically black restaurant that had also opened its doors to white patrons.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Did James Earl Ray assassinate Martin Luther King for KKK reward?

Forty-three years have passed since the assassination of Martin Luther King, but investigators are still seeking information about the crime.

In his blog, investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger points to circumstantial evidence reported in a new book that James Earl Ray may have killed King for the $100,000 reward offered by the KKK:

Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock, co-authors of the upcoming book, Seeking Armageddon: The Effort to Kill Martin Luther King Jr, are investigating that possibility.

Before escaping from prison in 1967, James Earl Ray reportedly learned of a $100,000 bounty that the White Knights were purportedly offering for King’s assassination.

On March 29, 1968, Ray (using the alias Harvey Lowmeyer) entered the Aeromarine Supply Co. in Birmingham and purchased a .243-caliber rifle.

The next day, Ray came back to the store and returned the rifle, exchanging it for a .30-06 rifle Remington Gamemaster. The owner told FBI agents that Ray had said his brother had told him it was the wrong kind of gun.

After King was assassinated, the FBI examined a series of telephone calls that Sam Bowers, imperial wizard for the White Knights, made in 1967 and 1968.

Bowers called Birmingham the same day that Ray bought the rifle.

“This could be very important, even if all it shows is that Bowers — or someone in Bowers’ amusement company — called a pay phone in Birmingham,” Wexler said.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Myrlie Evers talks about Medgar Evers' legacy

In this video, Myrlie Evers, wife of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, and a civil rights pioneer in her own right, talks about his work and his legacy:

Video: Recreation of Bloody Sunday crossing of Edmund Pettis Bridge held Sunday

Marchers mark 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday

Activists staged a recreation of the march across Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday:

Participants included U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who was injured in the melee in 1965, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Law enforcement officers attacked civil rights demonstrators marching toward Montgomery across the bridge on March 7, 1965. The movement only grew, and the Selma-to-Montgomery march was held later in response.

The march is credited with helping build momentum for passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Civil rights pioneer shows no signs of slowing down

The Montgomery Advertiser profiles civil rights pioneer F. D. Reese:

Reese would be­come president of the Dallas County Voters League and lead­er of the Selma public school teachers organization.
When his students left their classrooms to join demonstra­tions against racist voter regis­tration practices, he joined them and was fired for it.
All that's ancient history now and Reese is one of the few leaders of the protests still around to talk about it. He'll do it again this morning when he preaches at a Selma church during the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee.
He has been pastor of Ebenez­er Baptist Church for the past 46 years and he and his wife, Al­line, are proud great-grandpar­ents.

At the age of 81 he has no plans to slow down and has even begun thinking about writing his autobiography. It's been the thing to do these days for old civil rights warriors.

Reese, who taught for several years and served 12 years on the Selma City Council before losing a mayoral bid, once was reluctant to write it, but he knows that his tomorrows are growing shorter.

"Freedom Summer" author to speak at Pittsburg State University

Bruce Watson, author of the book Freedom Summer will speak at Pittsburg State University 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at room 109 at Grubbs Hall. The program is free:

“Civil rights is a huge topic in schools now, but what’s taught often begins with Rosa Parks and ends with Martin Luther King,” Watson said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his home in western Massachusetts. “I wanted to pay tribute to this turning point.”

More formally known as the Mississippi Summer Project, Freedom Summer was a campaign launched in June 1964 to register as many African American voters as possible in Mississippi, which at that time almost totally denied black persons the right to vote by charging them expensive poll taxes, forcing them to take especially difficult literacy tests and harassing would-be voters economically. Those who persisted in their efforts to exercise their right to vote often had their homes or farms burned, were beaten or lynched.

Volunteers were recruited on college campuses across the nation to go to Mississippi to work alongside the black Mississippians to help secure their rights. Over 1,000 out-of-state volunteers participated in Freedom Summer.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Report outlines the impact of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

(The following research paper was written by Tess Harmon, an eighth grader in Mr. Randy Turner's communication arts class at Joplin East Middle School.)
In the mid-1950’s, segregation flourished.  It seemed like African Americans couldn’t go anywhere without being mistreated.  One of the most conspicuous places of segregation was the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system.
The Montgomery city code mandated that “all public transportation be segregated” and that bus drivers had the same privilege as a police officer when it came to enforcing the city code.  Drivers had to provide “separate but equal” treatment.  To do so, buses place colored people in the back, and whites in the front.  If needed, a bus driver could ask a colored passenger to move. (

Pre-Boycott Rebellion

 Several of the black citizens of Montgomery, Alabama, grew tired of this treatment and decided to act.
One of these people was Claudette Colvin, a fifteen-year-old girl.  She was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth Council.  ( 
On March 2, as more and more white passengers boarded the bus, Colvin thought back to what she had learned in school that day.  They were studying black history, such as Harriet Tubman, an Underground Railroad worker, and Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and former slave.  They were also discussing the unfair consequences of the Jim Crow laws, such as not being able to try on shoes.  (
When the bus driver asked her to move, Colvin refused because she had paid the bus fee and it was her “constitutional right.” The driver then called the police, who arrested Colvin and took her to jail. (
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) thought about initiating a test trial for the unfair treatment on Montgomery buses, but as Colvin was only a teen at the time and later became pregnant, the NAACP did not feel that she was a good candidate. (
Another key person in the rebellion against the buses was Lillie Mae Bradford.  In May of 1951, Bradford had boarded the bus, paid her fare, and received her transfer slip.  When she sat down in her seat, she realized that her slip had been incorrectly marked.  This had happened many times in the past, not only to her, but many other colored people at that time.   (
Bradford decided that she was not going to quietly sit down without pointing the error out to the driver.  The bus driver simply ignored her and told her to go sit down.  Not letting the matter drop, Bradford sat down in the seat behind the driver and continued to ask him to correct the transfer slip.  (
The bus driver proceeded to call the police and have her arrested for disorderly conduct.  Bradford was soon released on bail. (
Mary Louise Smith also helped in the revolt.  On October 21, 1965, Mary was on the Montgomery bus, when she was asked to move for a white passenger.  Smith blatantly refused.  She was soon arrested and charged with failure to obey segregation orders. (
Like Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith was being considered for a test trial.  While Smith herself was a good candidate, she was not chosen because her father was a supposed drunk. (

The Rosa Parks Incident

December 1, 1955, was a day that changed history forever.  A woman named Rosa Parks, an NAACP member, sat in her seat on that Montgomery bus.  She did not know of the events that would permanently alter the way whites looked at colored people.  (
            When a white person boarded the bus, four blacks were asked to move.  One of them was forty-two year old Rosa Parks. (Stein)  The three stood up, but Parks remained seated, claiming, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.”  (
The bus driver was quick to arrest her, and she was charged with violating a city ordinance.  She was fined $10, along with a $4 court fee. ((

The Boycott

When news of Rosa Parks’ arrest broke, the black community was shocked.  It was decided that there would be a one-day boycott led by a new priest, Martin Luther King Jr.  About ninety percent of the black community participated (, though King only expected about sixty percent. (King)
King decided to form the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA).  The night of their first meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church, the community suggested extending the boycott. ( King believed that it was a good idea, and told the community, “We are here this evening to say to those who have mistreated us for so long that we are tired—tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression… For many years we have shown amazing patience.  We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated.  But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.”(King)
The boycott continued for a few days.  On December 8, MIA leaders and officials of the city met to discuss a proposal for buses that was fairer to blacks.  However, no agreement could be reached. (
This posed a problem for the colored community.  Very few blacks had cars, and the buses were their only way to get to work and school.  In order to overcome this problem, the MIA formed a car pool for those whose workplace was too far away to walk.  ( People fixed up old buggies and used horses to pull them.  Those who had cars gave rides to those who did not. (King)  Eventually, the car pool had more than two hundred private cars, most of which were operated by churches. ( One man saw an elderly woman walking down the sidewalk and offered her a ride.  When he asked her if she was tired, she turned to him and replied, “My feet are tired, but my soul is at rest.” (Stein)
Meanwhile, meetings with city officials continued, but like before, no agreement was made. (
As the boycott continued, it began to hurt the bus companies.  They were forced to raise prices from ten cents to fifteen cents. (Stein)  The city penalized taxis for charging blacks ten cents, the original fee for buses.  (King)
The city wanted to make it known that they would not stand for this kind of revolt.  Whites began to get more and more aggressive.  Martin Luther King Jr. began to get anonymous, threatening phone calls.  On January 30, 1956, King’s house, with his wife and daughter inside, was bombed, as was several others of the MIA’s leaders.  In mid-March, King was convicted of violating the anti-boycott law.  (
Though many of the leaders seriously considered abandoning the boycott, it lasted throughout the end of 1955 and 1956, a total of thirteen months. (


            Throughout the boycott, the entire black community had tried to have the bus segregation laws declared unconstitutional.  When a law similar to the Montgomery bus segregation policy was declared as such, the leaders of the MIA decided to take their case to court. (  On November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court was ruled as unconstitutional, ending the Montgomery bus boycott.  (Stein)
            Ramsey Clark said, “If Rosa Parks had not refused to move to the back of the bus, you and I might have never heard of Dr. Martin Luther King. (
The Montgomery Bus boycott was said to be the first “mass attack on segregation.”  Others say that it was what started the Civil Rights Movement.  While all of these are respectable speculations, one thing is for sure.  History was changed forever.

King, Martin Luther Jr.  Stride Toward Freedom. New York: Harper & Row, 1958, Print.

Stein, R. Conrad.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Canada: Children’s Press, 1993, Print.

“Before Rosa Parks, There Was Claudette Colvin.” NPR. Adler, Margaret. March 17, 2009.
“Claudette Colvin.” The Montgomery Advertiser. June 7, 2005.

“Claudette Colvin.” The Montgomery Advertiser. Kitchen, Sebastian.  June 7, 2005.

“Effects of the Incident.” Tripod. April 6, 2006.

“Lillie Mae Bradford.” The Montgomery Advertiser. Greene, Terri.  June 7, 2005.

“Mary Louise Smith.” Rivers of Change. February 20, 2011.

“The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Timeline.” The Montgomery Advertiser. June 7, 2005.

 “Rosa Parks Biography.” Academy of Achievement. October 14, 2010.

“Rosa Parks Biography.” February 20, 2011.

Selma to mark anniversary of march with bridge crossing

A bridge crossing will be held this weekend in Selma to commemorate the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday:

Selma will mark the anniversary of a watershed moment of the civil rights movement this weekend with an annual commemoration that will end with activists young and old walking across a historic bridge.
The 18th annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee began Thursday in the west Alabama city with a reception and a mass meeting at Tabernacle Baptist Church, which briefly served as headquarters for the voting rights movement in Selma.
The weekend marks the 46th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday, when authorities beat back civil rights demonstrators marching toward Montgomery across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965.
The Selma-to-Montgomery march was held later in response, helping build momentum for passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Participants will walk across the bridge on Sunday to cap the annual commemoration.
During the weekend, organizers will honor members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which lasted for only six years in the 1960s but helped work for equal rights in everything from voting to housing to bus transportation.
SNCC's leaders included John Lewis, who is now a congressman from Georgia and is expected to attend the commemoration events.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Birmingham Church bombing survivor brings message of courage

During a speech in Eureka, Calif., Carolyn McKinstry talked about her experiences growing up in Birmingham in the 1960s, including surviving the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963:

The church was also the place that McKinstry's life would be forever changed on Sept. 15, 1963.
While volunteering as a secretary, a 14-year-old McKinstry was walking upstairs in the church to take roll that morning. She walked past the girl's bathroom, where her four friends were busy combing their hair and chatting. When McKinstry got to the top of the stairs, a phone was ringing. She said she answered it, and the caller only said, “three minutes.”
Moments later a blast shook the church's foundation, and McKinstry's four friends were dead.
”I still get real sad when I think about my friends in that their deaths were the blood price we had to pay for our freedom in Birmingham,” McKinstry said.