After Bloody Sunday (March 7, 1965) and Turnaround Tuesday, the task to complete a Selma to Montgomery march still remained. This time, beginning on March 21st, the determined were escorted by the United States Army, federalized Alabama National Guard troops and guarded by two helicopters.
One week after Bloody Sunday, on March 15, 1965, President Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to urge the passage of legislation guaranteeing the passage of the voting rights act. Johnson’s support to the “movement” was essential to securing voting rights and a successful march later in the month.
Even with the President’s support with a more secure route, and his verbal and political support, the harm to field workers and marchers was real. Nothing stopped the hecklers who jeered, cursed, and waved the Confederate Flag. With 54 miles to cover, the plan was to have several hundred march and camp on U.S. Highway 80 while others return to Selma at night. The return to the active marchers and join others on the route, many had to be ferried by drivers each day.
On Sunday, March 21st nearly 8,000 people assembled at Brown Chapel Church in Selma, heartened by the food prepared in the kitchen at Green Street Baptist Church, for the first days campsite 7 miles away in Lowndes County. The first seven miles proved difficult for many. People not used to walker suffered blisters, sore legs and feet. By the time they reached the farm of David Hall many were exhausted.
The advanced team had raised four large tents for the night’s rest. Food for the first night delivered by trucks fro Green Street Baptist in Selma was spaghetti, pork and beans and coffee. Galvanized newly purchased steel garbage cans brought corn bread in large baking pans.
Thousands of marchers were taken back to Selma for the night. Leaving the ones preparing to take on the second leg through Lowndes County. Hostile whites congregated along the road to harass both the marchers headed to Montgomery and the ones going back to Selma. The four tents set up for the overnight marchers were divided by need. One for the men, one for the women, one for supplies, one for food and the last one a first aide station.
Marchers were at first accompanied by only the Alabama National Guard with rifles pointed at or directed toward the marchers as they lined the road. So unarmed Freedom Movement veterans created an inner and outer perimeter during the night watching guardsmen as carefully as the keep a lookout for Klan snipers.
By 6 am the next morning the temperature had dropped to 28 degrees. The marcher were cold and stiff from sleeping on the ground. Marchers were bundled with blankets and quilts and huddled around fires. The Green Street Baptist Church in Selma delivered the days breakfast of oatmeal, toast and coffee. The march re-started at 7 am. This day was to be a 16 mile second leg to the next campsite.
Along the road in were signs of intimidation. Billboards with messages from the White Citizens Council periodically lined the road. The lead marchers carried the American flag with 300 marchers following. Behind them were cars, vans and news media with cameras also following were portable toilets and more troops.
The covert resistance to “so-called’ white supremacy is ready to assist the marchers. Racially motivated land seizures, murders, evictions, exploitations, beatings, arson, and false charges created a sense of Black Pride and necessary unity. Marchers were both white and black, men and women. Native Lowndes County Black citizens gathered along the route to show support for the marchers.
As the marchers make their way into Montgomery county the crowd begins to grow. Beginning with the 300 that left Selma and growing to 500, the marchers now grow to nearly 1,000. When the gates of St. Jude’s Church is reached there were more than 5,000 with at least 1,000 waiting to greet them.
In Montgomery, 200 Tuskegee, Alabama State and Montgomery High School students, just released from bond after days in Kilby prison and other area jails, proudly march to St. Jude’s. Supporters from outside of the area are joining the crowd to make the final leg to the Capitol. Marchers along with the supporters have now grown to at least 10,000 in Montgomery.
The night before the final day, March 25th, and the gathering at the Capitol many famous mobilize to perform for the huge crowd. Harry Belafonte, Nipsey Russel, Peter, Paul and Mary, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Ella Fitzgerald and others like Dick Gregory, Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger greeted and entertained the crowd.
This report from the field was delivered to SNCC, covers March 21 through the 24th, and taken from the notes turned in by Randolph Blackwell, Sheyann Webb and Charles Fager. The march to Montgomery covered the 54 miles from Brown Chapel in Selma to St. Jude’s Church in Montgomery. The final day, March 25th and the aftermath from US Highway 80, is our final report. covered will be the murder of Viola Liuzzo and other events.