New York Times
March 21, 1965
|Courtesy of The New York Times Archives.|
Big Parade: On the Road to Montgomery
Freedom March Begins at Selma; Troops on Guard
3,200 Take Part in Protest as 54-Mile Rights Walk to Montgomery Starts
Dr. King Hails Mission
Envisions 'A New Alabama' and 'A New America' & #151; Crowd's Mood Festive
By Roy Reed
Special to The New York Times
The marchers, or at least many of them, are on their way to the State Capitol at Montgomery to submit a petition for Negro rights Thursday to Gov. George C. Wallace, a man with little sympathy for their cause.
Today was the third attempt for the Alabama Freedom March. On the first two, the marchers were stopped by state troopers, the first time with tear gas and clubs.
The troopers were on hand today, but they limited themselves to helping Federal troops handle traffic on U.S. Highway 80 as the marchers left Selma.
Soldiers Line Highway
Hundreds of Army and federalized National Guard troops stood guard in Selma and lined the highway out of town to protect the marchers. The troops were sent by President Johnson after Governor Wallace said that Alabama could not afford the expense of protecting the march.
The marchers were in festive humor as they started. The tone was set by the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, top aide to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as he introduced Dr. King for an address before the march started.
"When we get to Montgomery," Mr. Abernathy said, "we are going to go up to Governor Wallace's door and say, 'George, it's all over now. We've got the ballot.'"
The throng laughed and cheered.
Seven Miles Covered
The marchers, a large majority of them Negroes, walked a little over seven miles today.
Governor Wallace is not expected to be at the State Capitol when the marchers arrive at the end of their 54-mile journey. An aide has said that he will probably be "in Michigan, or someplace" making a speech Thursday.
Not enough buses could be found to escort 2,900 of the 3,200 marchers back to Selma tonight in line with a Federal Court order limiting the number to 300 along a two-lane stretch of highway.
The authorities feared for the safety of those returning to Selma, Justice Department officials finally arranged with the Southern Railway for a special train of the Western Railway of Alabama to take them back. The Western is a subsidiary of the Southern.
Highway 80 narrows from a four-lane to a two-lane road about five miles past the point where the marchers stopped tonight. It widens to four lanes again as it approaches Montgomery.
In his talk at the start of the march, Dr. King praised President Johnson, saying of his voting rights message to Congress last Monday: "Never has a President spoken so eloquently or so sincerely on the question of civil rights."
Then he turned to the crowd in front of Browns Chapel Methodist, Church, the thousands of whites and Negroes from Alabama and around the country who were congregated for the march, and said:
"You will be the people that will light a new chapter in the history books of our nation. Those of us who are Negroes don't have much. We have known the long night of poverty. Because of the system, we don't have much education and some of us don't know how to make our nouns and verbs agree. But thank God we have our bodies, our feet and our souls.
"Walk together, children, don't you get weary, and it will lead us to the promised land. And Alabama will be a new Alabama, and America will be a new America."
Dr. King's sense of history, if not his optimism, seemed well placed. The Alabama march appears destined for a niche in the annals of the great protest demonstrations.
The march is the culmination of a turbulent nine-week campaign that began as an effort to abolish restrictions on Negro voting in the Alabama Black Belt and widened finally to encompass a general protest against racial injustice in the state.
The drive has left two men dead and scores injured. Some 3,800 persons have been arrested in Selma and neighboring communities.
The march got under way at 12:47 P.M., 2 hours 47 minutes late, after a confused flurry of last-minute planning and organizing.
The marchers reached the first night's campsite, 7.3 miles east of Selma, at 5:30. When they got there they found four big tents pitched in a Negro farmer's field.
Leading the march with Dr. King were Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, United Nations Under Secretary for Special Political Affairs; the Right Rev. Richard Millard, Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California, and Cager Lee, grandfather of Jimmy Lee Jackson, the young Negro killed by a state trooper last month at Marion, Ala.
Also among the leaders were John Lewis, president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Deaconess Phyllis Edwards of the Episcopal Diocese of California; Rabbi Abraham Heschel, professor of Jewish mysticism and ethics at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York; Mr. Abernathy, and the Rev. Frederick D. Reese, a Negro minister from Selma, who is president of the Dallas County Voters League.
About 2,000 white and Negro spectators watched the procession leave town. That was 4,000 fewer than Army Intelligence had predicted.
About 150 whites watched in silence as the march turned from Alabama Avenue and headed down Broad Street toward Edmund Pettus Bridge. A white man hoisted his young son to his shoulder to give the lad a better view. Several persons snapped pictures.
Brig. Gen. Henry V. Graham, a National Guard officer, commanded all Federal troops on the scene, including the Regular Army military policemen. General Graham, a tall, square-jawed man, stood in the middle of Pettus Bridge wearing a helmet as he directed the operation.
Two state trooper cars led the procession across the bridge. In the lead car was Maj. John Cloud, the man who directed the rout, with tear gas and nightsticks, of 525 Negro marchers near the foot of the same bridge two weeks ago.
The marchers passed the site of the bloody incident without signal, except for a reminder from a white heckler.
It was to protest the officers' rout of the first marchers that the Rev. James J. Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from Boston, came to Selma with scores of other clergymen. While he was here, Mr. Reeb was fatally beaten by a band of white men on March 9.
The heckler held up a sign as the procession left Pettus Bridge early this afternoon. It read, "Too bad, Reeb."
A few feet away, another white spectator held a sign saying, "I hate niggers."
More whites heckled from a railroad embankment running along the highway. They apparently were upset over the way the marchers were carrying a United States flag. They were carrying it upside down- the position of the distress signal.
On down the road, three cars painted with anti-Negro slogans passed in the south section of the four-lane highway. One car, with a Mississippi license plate, bore the words, "Meridian, Miss., hates niggers." A Confederate flag flew from the radio aerial. The lettering on another car said, "Go home scum."
Back in town some 20 stragglers ran up Broad Street toward the bridge with knapsacks bouncing on their backs, trying to catch the procession, which had already disappeared over the bridge. The marchers walked on the left side of the highway.
The Federal presence was everywhere, even in the air. About a dozen planes and helicopters, many of them manned by military personnel, flew over the procession constantly.
John Doar, head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, walked to one side at the head of the march, watching.
Maj. Gen. Carl C. Turner, Provost Marshal General of the United States Army, was on the scene as the personal representative of the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Harold K. Johnson.
By radio, Federal agents reported minute by minute to the Justice Department and the Pentagon in Washington.
M.P.'s guarded every crossroad, leapfrogging in Jeeps to stay ahead of the march.
There was one report of violence. An unidentified white minister riding in an advance car was said to have been attacked by four white men when he got out of the car on the side of the road.
A spokesman for the marchers said the minister had been struck on the face once and knocked to the ground but had not been seriously hurt.
Today's leg of the journey was cut short four miles by a court injunction obtained by a white landowner who did not want the marchers camping overnight on his land. A Negro tenant had agreed to let them camp there.
The march leaders found a new campsite. The Negro farmer's field where they slept tonight is about a quarter of a mile south of the highway.
The field is about 500 yards from the New Sister Springs Baptist Church. It was at the church that the marchers returning to Selma tonight boarded rented Greyhound buses and numerous automobiles that shuttled them to the railway loading point about a mile from the campsite.
Most of those who left the march this way spent the night, as many had spent previous nights, with Negro families in Selma.
Some will remain in Alabama and rejoin the march Thursday, the final day. Leaders of the march hope to arrive at Montgomery in impressive numbers.
The military authorities are concerned about protection for the marchers at night. Show business personalities such as Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne are scheduled to entertain the group every night. The officials fear that outsiders may come to the camps to see and hear the entertainers, and that troublemakers may infiltrate at the same time.
A military spokesman said the troops had no authority to search cars for weapons.
Although the weather was relatively warm for the beginning of the march, the temperature dropped below freezing.
The coming of the troops to Selma has produced none of the crushing grimness of the Federal presence that characterized the Government's intervention at Little Rock, Ark., in 1957 and Oxford, Miss., in 1962.
The main difference is that troops were used in the earlier instances to suppress violence already out of hand, while they were brought here to prevent violence.
Most of Selma's whites today went about their Sunday morning business, which is church, and only a few bothered with the commotion on Sylvan Street.
About 30 whites gathered at Broad Street and Alabama Avenue at midmorning to wait for the march to go by. The march was late, as expected, and while they waited half a dozen spectators joshed with the four armed military policemen stationed there.
The state and local authorities have repeatedly urged Alabama whites to stay away from U.S. Highway 80 while the march is in progress.
Early this morning, two or three armed M.P.'s were deployed at each intersection on the march route in the city. More were strung out along Highway 80 on the other side of Edmund Pettus Bridge. Several state troopers were scattered along the highway on the outskirts of the city.
At Craig Air Force Base, five miles east on Highway 80, a dozen big Army trucks could be seen from the road. They were filled with armed troops.
The temperature was 2 degrees above freezing when people began gathering in Sylvan Street this morning. The sun came out brilliantly, and by 11 A.M. the temperature was up to 42 degrees.
The marchers were out in everything from shirtsleeves to heavy coats. One elderly Negro wore a dress Air Force topcoat and a heavy wool headpiece that covered his head, throat and most of his face.
Paul R. Screvane, president of the New York City Council showed up in a suit and blue overcoat. He and Mrs. Constance Baker Motley, Manhattan's Negro Borough President, joined the milling crowd in front of Browns Chapel at midmorning.
Mr. Screvane explained why he was there.
"We came to represent Mayor Wagner and, we hope, the people of New York in what we consider to be a just cause," he said.
Dozens of union officials and clergymen came in today and joined the hundreds of ministers and students and civil rights workers already here.
A fresh college group arrived, 33 students and three professors from Canisius College, a Roman Catholic institution in Buffalo, N.Y. A sign thrust up from the group said, "Civil Man Wants Civil Rights."
Early today, plans for the march were still being hammered out. At 8 A.M., 400 or 500 persons milled in the street.
Milling has become the style of the movement in recent weeks, and the character of the milling has changed as hundreds of whites from the North, East, and West have come into town to add their protest to the Negro's. The outsiders mill with a greater air of purpose.
The marchers who showed up very early today in front of Browns Chapel were from the hard core of the movement. Others did not begin to appear on Sylvan Street until the sun was high.
The Alabama Freedom March has a long history, as the leaders see it. The Rev. Andrew Young, executive assistant to Dr. King in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, told reporters last night that the whole Alabama project went back to the Birmingham church bombing of 1963 in which five Negro children were killed.
"At that time," he said, "we began to ask ourselves, 'What can we do to change the climate of an entire state?'"
The Black Belt movement began that year. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee moved into Selma, which calls itself queen of the Alabama Black Belt - the swath of rich, dark, soil and heavy Negro population across south-central Alabama- and began holding meetings and demonstrations.
Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came here last January and put the Selma movement on the map.
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