An excerpt from J.L. Rainey’s Journal, Selma, Alabama, March 1965, from the novel, The Clock Of Life, by Nancy Klann-Moren.
My posts will include both J.L.’s journal entries, and actual articles from The Selma Times-Journal each day until he reaches Montgomery.
This is day sixteen after he arrived in Selma to take part in the right-to-vote march to Montgomery, and finally, the day they begin.
Sun, Mar 21, 11:20pm ― We got to Brown Chapel at 5am, pumped on caffeine. We stood out front on Sylvan, for what seemed like hours beyond the posted start time. Everyone was singing “We Shall Overcome” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round” over and over until MLK finally arrived. The joke is, we were on CPT, colored people time.
Helicopters buzzed overhead like loud, giant insects. The air was filled with hope and eagerness and anticipation. I was pumped to the max.
Finally, we left the church. There had to be at least 5,000 people from all across the USofA. Besides us regular folks there were politicians, people from labor unions, and churches. Spam and I stayed with the people from the project. We walked six abreast toward the bridge. The worthless Alabama Guardsmen didn’t do more than watch the douchebags on the sidelines throw their usual insults and threats. We drowned them out with civil-rights songs.
Once it was clear, really, finally clear, that no trouble waited at the bottom of the bridge, we linked arms. I wasn’t nervous anymore, just committed to the cause and confident enough to let my soul burn with pride. That’s the moment I realized my life had changed. I wasn’t a lone rebel butting heads with the douchebags, I was a small part of a large movement. All questions I had about my future were over.
TV crews carrying giant cameras scrambled to get in front of us. We filled the two lanes of Jeff Davis Hwy, heading east for the first eight miles of the march. I felt drunk with self-respect, even after finding out Spam and I wouldn’t be able to go the whole way to Montgomery.
It seems you can’t have too many court orders, so another one was issued for Lowndes County, limiting the number of marchers to three hundred. Their bullshit reason? SAFETY!! ―because the highway narrows to two lanes. It’s just an attempt to slow down the momentum. It’ll take two days to get through Lowndes.
Bevel picked a team of 300 marchers. They’ll spend their nights in fields. I sure would have liked to be a part of it, but accept my fate. Some folks came back to Selma in chartered buses but Spam and I hung around too long, so we had to settle for the back end of a stake truck.
The Selma Times, Journia, Sunday Morning, March 21, 1965.
March Time Set Here For 10:00 A.M.
Gen H.V. Graham, commander of the Alabama National Guard, was scheduled to return to Selma around midnight Saturday to command military units which will provide security for the massive civil rights march to Montgomery Sunday. The last announced departure time for the historic movement was 10 a.m. today along a course from Brown Chapel to Alabama Avenue, west on Alabama to Broad and south on Broad across Pettus Bridge.
Police, with assistance from state troopers and National Guardsmen will police the march to Pettus Bridge, it was indicated. From that point, the federalized guard, with regular Army units on stand-by, will take over.
Justice Department Press Chief Jack Rosenthal in a late press conference Saturday night said that the Montgomery to Selma lane of Highway 80 will be closed to traffic Sunday with only the marchers, service trucks, television mobile units and emergency vehicles going with them on it. He stated that when the marchers reach the two-lane portion of the coast to coast highway traffic will be limited to one lane, alternating the East and West bound lanes.
Activity Saturday was confined to preparations for the march, with a number of rental trucks moving in and out of the area. Other groups, who are expected to participate, at least, in the first phase of the march, were arriving to swell the large number of people already in the Sylvan Street vicinity. At lease one movie-television personality, Gary Merrill, was identified at Brown Chapel. Other celebrities were reported on their way to Selma and Montgomery.
Circuit Court Judge L.S. Moore said Saturday that he has issued an injunction forbidding the use of land in the Tyler area, owned by Jim Minter, as a camp sight for marchers the first night of the movement. The land was reported to be under lease to Andrew Watts, a Negro who allegedly gave permission for the marchers to camp on the property. It was reported the land was leased only for farming purposes. The site in question was identified as Watson Hill. Members of the march committee were reported to have stated that other overnight camp sites would not be announced until later.
An order issued by Judge Daniel Thomas Friday afternoon said that persons can peacefully congregate, demonstrate, or picket for the purpose of expressing their grievances only in certain areas. These areas included Sylvan Street, South of Jeff Davis Avenue to Alabama and West on Alabama to the vicinity of the City Hall and Dallas County Courthouse.
The federal judge said that demonstrators must obey all traffic rules, not interfere with the normal flow of traffic or block entrances to any private businesses. The limitations reported were set down to prevent demonstrations in residential areas, such as those conducted Friday afternoon.
A total of 313 demonstrators walked in groups through the residential area near the home of Mayor Joe Smitherman and were immediately taken into “protective custody” by Public Safety Director Wilson Baker. The group was released after being placed in the Negro Community Center to get them out of the rain. When told they were released, all but four of them lay on the floor and refused to leave. The majority of the demonstrators departed around 9 a.m. Saturday morning.
The widely scattered groups of demonstrators alarmed housewives and children and sent a number of irate husbands quickly home from their jobs to check on their families.
The demonstrations, coming when Baker was cautioning leaders about dangers of demonstrating in residential areas, taxed law enforcement efforts to the maximum. Two accidents involving police occurred as officers rushed to the scene of the demonstrators. The groups, made up by a large percentage of clergymen and beatnik-type whites, were placed on school buses and were transported to the courtyard behind City Hall.
City firemen were pressed into service to police the area in the courtyard and protect the demonstrators. Other officers patrolled against new groups leaving the Sylvan Street churches to join the abortive residential area marches.
The civil rights demonstrators said they desired to go to the home of Mayor Smitherman and Baker, and throughout surrounding areas, for attempted bi-racial talks with the people residing there. Upon intercepting the marchers, Baker angrily referred to them as a group of “misfits and mentally ill people” whose intentions were to get someone killed or injured for propaganda purposes.
At one point the marchers were told to quit singing because there was a very sick woman living nearby. When they responded by singing louder, Baker marched them to the Elkdale Baptist Church parking lot.
Civil rights leaders mobilized thousands of followers Saturday for a historic march on Montgomery, 50 miles away, as the U.S. Army moved into position to protect the group in its long trek to the former capital of the Confederacy.
As nightfall came to Selma, Army Jeeps made their rounds through the city of 30,000 dropping off single soldiers carrying rifles to direct troops coming into town to the National Guard armory. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., will lead the procession. Negro leaders said Saturday night the starting time for the march has been changed to 10 a.m. CST.
An inter-denominational prayer service is planned earlier as a prelude to the five-day hike. The starting point will be the Brown Chapel A.M.E. church, headquarters for the right-to-vote campaign which started two months ago in Selma.
Hundreds of troops appeared to be camping around Memorial Stadium next to the armory, a mile and a half south of the city. Meanwhile, Robert M. Shelton, imperial wizard of the United Klans of America said the Ku Klux Klan will hold a mass meeting in Montgomery on Sunday to protest the Selma to Montgomery march. He said the meeting would be a “peaceful protest.”
A cold wind swept down Sylvan Street Saturday while the march committee completed preparations.
This will be the third start toward the state capital – a march to dramatize the Negro drive for the ballot. State troopers and mounted sheriff’s officers beat back the first attempt with clubs and tear gas.
This is an article in the Birmingham News the following morning.
First day marked with odd quitness – by Jack Hopper, News staff writer
EN ROUTE TO MONTGOMERY, March 22 – “They hate to go and I do too, but we’ve got to go.” This statement by Amelia Boynton, a Selma Negro leader and among those who pushed for authorization of the march in federal court, seemed to size up the general attitude of the 3,288 civil rights demonstrators as the 50-mile trek to Montgomery got under way.
It was a subdued manner that marked the first day of the historic march. Most of the marchers were quiet, not singing in their customary manner. A lot of stragglers fell out of the procession shortly after getting under way. They came from every section of the country to participate. Many came because of their dedication to furthering integration. But many came out of curiosity. When questioned, some couldn’t tell you why they were here.
An 82-year-old Negro, man, Cager Lee, the grandfather of fatally injured Jimmy Jackson Lee, who died of injuries suffered in a brief act of violence in Marion Feb. 18, let the marchers at the start of the trip. He marched beside Martin Luther King.
Linus Pauling Jr., a psychiatrist in Honolulu and son of Nobel Physic Prize Winner Linus Pauling, led six Hawaiians here to participate in the trek. They brought a sign reading: “Hawaii knows integration works.” Why did he fly all the way from Hawaii to walk 50 miles? “We feel we have something to demonstrate to Southerners about the races getting along together. Many races live together in Hawaii. Another of the group from Hawaii, Glen Izutsu, is president of the student body at the University of Hawaii. His classmates paid his expenses to come to Alabama to march in the civil rights movement. The group brought leis for Martin Luther King and some of the other leaders.
Jim Leather of Saginaw, Mich., is making the entire trip on crutches. He lost a leg shortly after birth but said, “With God’s grace I will make the walk.” He said he was one of 22 “outsiders” chosen by leaders to make the entire journey. “I came here to march for freedom in Selma, Alabama, and in Saginaw, Mich.” He emphasized, “Here the Negro can’t vote, and at home they have been denied equal housing and educational opportunities.
Joe Young, a blind man from Atlanta, said this march is the greatest thing of the century. He said he was raised with Negro children and that he could not understand why Southerners were denying them equal rights..
Robert Gladnick of Miami, Fla., is manager of two locals of the International Ladies’ Garment Union. When asked why he was wearing a Canadian sergeant’s uniform, he said, “This is the same battle as World War II.”
One Negro woman who refused to give her name was pushing a baby carriage in the middle of the group. The baby couldn’t have been more than six months old.
Mr. And Mrs. Frank Brink of Anchorage, Alaska, were parked on the side of the road during the first day of the march and “will probably join on the last day.” Brink, who is a professor at Alaska Methodist University, said he was here to participate “in one of the greatest moments of democracy. It is sad that this point was reached before basic democratic rights could be achieved. It is also sad that the impetus had to come from the federal government instead of Alabama.”
A good-looking blonde from Menloe Park, Calif., said, when asked why she was marching, “I want to check the situation over.” She said she came with three college friends.
One young white marcher, possibly 17 years old, was heard telling her boyfriend, “Let’s get on the other side of the street, the cameras are on.” With that, they made a dash in front of Martin Luther King and the other leaders.
Spectators lined the streets during the first day, some yelled insults at the marchers, most of them talking to themselves. One woman spectator, Mrs. Jimmy Wallace of Selma, said “I think it is terrible we are using this money for the march when our boys are fighting with outdated weapons in Viet Nam.”
The first day’s march was completely disorganized. The demonstrators agreed before the march to occupy only one lane of the four-lane highway. This hasn’t materialized. They are taking one complete side of the highway. The second was to have been reserved for the news media.
Federal troops are stationed about every 100 yards along highway, not interfering in any way with the march. After crossing Edmund Pettus Bridge, the march organizers began asking the crowd to speed up their pace. They started three house late and had to make 7.3 miles before reaching their camp. The marchers actually ran for a short distance, only then to slow to a creeping pace. After only one hour on the highway, several demonstrators began asking for water and food. Two rest stops were made during the first two miles of the journey.
Traffic on Highway 80, heading west, through Selma was slowed to a standstill several times because of newsmen and law enforcement creeping in automobiles. Three cars painted with signs such as “I hate niggers,” “Go Home King,” “Meridian, Miss., Hates Negroes,” and “Veterans of Oxford,” caused some commotion. Newsmen went across the highway to talk to the segregationists, again blocking traffic. Military police finally broke up the crowd, and told newsmen to get back across the highway.
The marchers were dressed in a wide variety of colors, but the dark ones prevailed. Business suits and levis, smart looking dresses and faded slacks. The spike heels of some marchers caused them to be among the first to drop out. Others wore old shoes that were not for marching. Topcoats, jackets and heavy sweaters were being shed as the temperatures began rising. Many of the marchers carried bedrolls and canned food stuffs even though food was to be served at the camp grounds.
Continually, throughout the march were Army helicopters scouting the area on all four sides of the march. Several helicopters were occupied by television cameras.
There was little tension in the air, in sharp contrast to the two previous attempts to make the 50-mile march