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 nineteen after he arrived in Selma to take part in the right-to-vote march to Montgomery, day four of the march.
Wed Mar 24― Dozens of shuttle buses left Selma to take those of us waiting to get back into action, to the county line. It felt real good to fall-in behind the leaders, walking through puddles and doing what’s right. On that second to the last leg, I could have walked forever, but it wasn’t long before we stopped at a Catholic school yard―St. June―a few miles outside Montgomery.
MLK arranged for celebrities to join us. Called it a “Stars for Freedom” rally. Spam and I climbed into a tree for a birds-eye view of the flatbed truck they set up as a stage. Thousands of people filled the school yard, and the area around the truck was crammed. Sat in that tree for three butt-numbing hours before anything happened (CPT).
Tony Perkins finally jumped up on the stage and spoke. Happy to say he wasn’t anything like Norman Bates. Never before had I seen a real celebrity in person and fell more and more star struck as the night went on. Belafonte, Poitier, Peter Paul & Mary, Tony Bennett―all in the flesh. All here for the same cause. Dick Gregory, Nipsey Russell. Sammy Davis Jr. sang the National Anthem. What a night! Oh, what a night! They didn’t finish until 2am.
Thursday, March 25 Selma Times Journal reported:
The Justice Department estimated 30,000 persons packed an athletic field at the City of St. Jude, a Roman Catholic complex containing a school, hospital and church, to see and hear many nationally known entertainers.
King met singer Harry Belafonte and six other entertainers at the airport Wednesday and then joined them at night during the rally at the athletic field. With Belafonte were actor Tony Perkins, comedian Nipsy Russell, comedienne Elaine May, actor Ossie Davis, folk singer Chad Mitchell and singer Tony Bennett. They and the other performers attracted a huge turnout. Seven persons were overcome by the heat and the press of the crowd, but only one was taken to a hospital. Vivian Moore, 29, of Chicago, was treated for exhaustion at St. Margaret’s Hospital.
A tent was blown down by gusty winds several hours before the entertainment began. However, it couldn’t have held the 30,000 persons Justice Department agents figured were present. The field was muddy but the weather cleared and stars were out when the program started. Former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson was applauded when he said he wanted to join the marchers. King was cheered and when he appeared on stage. “This is the greatest march on any capitol that there has ever been in the South,” he said. “This will go down in history as one of the greatest developments in the civil rights movement.”
His wife, Coretta King, said she was deeply moved and inspired by the two days she spent with the marchers. “I was walking for my children and grandchildren and all the children in the world,” she said. The Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, King’s top aide and treasurer of his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said, “My feet are tired, my back aches, but my soul is resting.”
Dr. Ralph Bunche, undersecretary to the United Nations, also said his legs were sore from walking. But, he said, “Nothing I have been associated with in my entire life gives me more satisfaction than this movement.”
Five clergymen from London, Ontario, presented $2,000 to Abernathy, the SCLC treasurer, to be used for bail and legal fees for arrested demonstrators. They were the Revs. George W. Goth and K. Barry Passmore, United Church ministers; and the Revs. Grant Darling, Richard Berryman and Jim McKibbon, Anglicans.
The Boston chapter of SCLC contributed a check for $7,000. King has estimated the cost of the march to his organization at $50,000. Funds come from contributions.
Sammy Davis Jr. led the gathering in the singing of the national anthem. Two Army officers standing on the bed of a truck saluted. Davis closed his Broadway show “Golden Boy” for one night to come to Montgomery. Others who entertained included Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Shelly Winters, Alan King, Peter, Paul and Mary, Leon Bibb, Odetta, and singer Billy Eckstein.
During the evening it was announced that King will be this years recipient of the American Jewish Committee’s American Liberties Medallion. The award will be presented at the organization’s annual banquet in New York on May 20.