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 one day before “Bloody Sunday.” J.L. Rainey arrived in Selma, Alabama, from Hadlee, Mississippi to take part in the Right-to-Vote march to Montgomery.
Sat Mar 6, 1965, 10 pm ― Selma. Got off the bus about noon, pumped up like a kid on Christmas morn. Could feel the electricity in the air. Found the George Washington Carver project. All the bldgs look alike. Finally found Spam’s place. We hadn’t laid eyes on each other since the Moore march. Hardly recognized him. He’d blown up some 45 pounds.
I wasn’t here more than 20 minutes before we walked to Brown Chapel to take part in a Right-To-Vote protest from the church to the courthouse ―2pm. The big one’s tomorrow.
I didn’t expect to see so many whites here, but today’s march was organized by a white Rev. from Birmingham – Ellwanger. A bunch of his followers came with him. The group was small compared to what they expect for tomorrow, but still the biggest march I’ve been in so far. Being heckled from the sidelines by a bunch of ignorant douchebags was tough, but I controlled my hotheaded tendencies and stayed calm. #1 rule – nonviolence. I’m proud of myself for keeping my eyes straight ahead through all the spitting and name calling.
5 or 6 sheriffs were stationed on the steps of the courthouse. Then the head of the posse, a real asshole, read a telegram from the President of Ellwanger’s church, saying he didn’t represent them. The asshole spit chaw next to Rev. E’s shoe and said, “What do you say to that?” Rev. E stood up to him eye to eye and said, “He’s entitled to his opinion.” I could tell the head sheriff douchebag didn’t want to, but he moved aside. We marched up the steps as a unit, tense but determined. Ellwanger read his statement outlining our aims: To make it easier for Negroes to register to vote, and to stop police brutality and intimidation. That was it. It took no more than 15 minutes, and we headed back.
That’s when the fun started. A whole bunch of douchebag protesters (protesting us protesting) lined up their cars on the south side of the street. When we got close they revved their engines and a god-awful smell blew all over the place. They’d put limburger cheese on their manifolds. Limburger cheese, for christ sake. You’d have to be a double douchebag to put something that smells like vomit, or diarrhea, on your own car.
A whole mess of coloreds were on the other side of the street. 100 or so. They didn’t do much but watch, but before long they started to clap in rhythm and sing “We Shall Overcome.” Then the car douchebags waved a confederate flag and sang “Dixie” even louder. When we got back to the safety of Brown Chapel we shared a good laugh.
It was a rough day―but I feel good about what we did. Had thoughts of what the freedom riders went through back in ’61. And William Moore. What a man of conviction he was to go it all alone. I vowed to march in his honor tomorrow, the Big One. On to Montgomery! I’ve got to admit I’m nervous as hell, but can’t let on.
The next morning, The Selma-Times Journal reported it this way:
Massive Disorder Averted Here When Officers Intervene:
Selma shakily weathered Saturday afternoon, its most serious threat of mob violence in seven weeks of racial demonstrations, when a large crowd of angry whites threatened to close in at the courthouse on a group of out-of-town demonstrators led by a Birmingham Lutheran pastor.
Nearly all of the demonstrators―present here over official objections of the Lutheran Church―were jostled by a white agitator and a SNCC photographer was beaten in a brief fight.
In sharp contrast to stern police procedure which through seven weeks of earlier demonstrations has prevented unruly crowds from forming, law enforcement stood back until the last possible moment to save what threatened to be a massive civil disorder.
Chief Deputy Sheriff L.C. Crocker and Public Safety Director Wilson Baker said they had instructions to “ignore” the demonstration. The instructions reportedly evolved from the meeting held at the courthouse earlier in the day.
But at the last moment, after the SNCC photographer had already been knocked down the first time, Baker and Crocker moved between the demonstrators and the whites who were closing in on the group.
“Go home nigger-loving. . .” the crown shouted at the estimated 60 demonstrators who moved to the courthouse from the Negro Reformed Presbyterian Church on Jeff Davis Avenue around 2 pm.
The demonstrators, moving to the courthouse from the church in small, widely spaced groups, was led by Rev. Joseph Ellwanger of Birmingham.
The Lutheran pastor, whose parents reside here and who attended high school in Selma, has participated in racial demonstrations in a number of cities, the FBI said. His younger brother, an attorney, is on the staff of the Alabama Attorney General.
The group followed by some 20 news and television cameramen walked east on Jeff Davis to Broad, south on Broad to Alabama and went on Alabama to the side entrance of the courthouse.
Jimmy George Robinson, formerly of Beasemer who has moved to Selma since the outset of racial disorders here, stood in a crowd on the Post Office Drug Store corner and jostled the demonstrators as they walked past him.
Robinson and Charles Ellis Broadhead, 28, Selma Rt. 2, were arrested later in the disturbance by Baker and charged with disorderly conduct. Both were freed under individual bonds of $200 a short time later.
Broadhead was taken into custody. Baker said, when he refused to obey repeated warnings to stop using profane language. Robinson was arrested after chasing the SNCC photographer and attacking him in front of Heins Furniture Store. The photographer escaped from Robinson and two other white men who beat him to the sidewalk and jumped into an automobile parked at the curb. Several whites attempted to overturn the auto and had two wheels lifted from the ground when police walked up.
When the demonstrators arrived at the courthouse, a large group of angry whites and an estimated 300 Negroes already faced each other in a tense confrontation across the street. When the white demonstrators attempted to sing “America” the whites facing them raised their voices in “Dixie.” Across the street, the Negroes started singing “We Shall Overcome,” the theme song of their movement.
When the white demonstrators moved away, Baker crossed the street and moved the Negroes.
The activities today are focused on an announced attempt by the Negroes to stage a march from Selma to Montgomery which Gov. George Wallace said Saturday he will not permit.
Mayor Joe Smitherman said a short time later he “agrees with the governor that Negroes should not be permitted to make this senseless march. The city will join forces and cooperate fully with the state in stopping the march,” the mayor said.
The governor at a special news conference in Montgomery said such a march is not “conducive to the orderly flow of traffic and commerce within and through the State of Alabama. The additional hazard placed on highway travel by any such actions cannot be counterbalanced.” His statement added: “Such a march cannot and will not be tolerated.”
The decision was reached, he said, in conjunction with the State Department of Public Safety, which would us whatever measures necessary to prevent it.
In Selma, Saturday’s mile and a quarter march from a church to the Dallas County Courthouse was the first such action by white persons. The group, called Concerned White Citizens of Alabama, included professors, businessman, housewives, school teachers and other professional people.
When the taunts came from a crowd of about 500 persons, Public Safety Director Wilson Baker worked his way through the mob in an attempt to disperse it. He arrested one unidentified man on a charge of disorderly conduct. “I told you to quit cursing and I mean it,” Baker said as the heckler was led away by two police officers.
The citizens group, led by the Rev. Joseph Ellwanger of St. Paul’s Lutheran church in Birmingham, stopped at the courthouse steps for about 15 minutes while the minister read a statement outlining the group’s aims. Among these was to stop alleged police brutality and intimidation―which officers have denied― and to make it easier for Negroes to register to vote. The voter registration drive began Jan. 18.
King had said earlier that Sunday’s major march was designed to place emphasis on the right-to-vote campaign in Alabama. He was not immediately available for comment after Wallace’s stop-the-march announcement, but one of his aids said King will be here to march.
The aid, the Rev. C.T. Vivian, said: “We shall plan to march. I don’t know what he―Wallace―plans to do to stop us, but he has several alternatives. He can beat us, he can arrest us, or any other number of things he might choose.” Another of King’s aids, Andrew Young, said the marchers would have two alternatives if stopped by state troopers. “One is to go back and get a court order permitting us to march. And the other is to sit down wherever they stop us.”