Montgomery in March, 1965: Images from the front lines of the freedom struggle
Selma has been much in public consciousness in recent months, owing to the release of the movie of the same name, the city’s historical place and symbolic importance in the (renewed) contention over voting rights in the nation and, of course, this past weekend’s presidential visit to the city on the fiftieth anniversary of the infamous “Bloody Sunday” march. These contemporary events serve to remind us all that documentary evidence of signal events in world history are contained in the Library’s unparalleled collections and that these materials will continue to expand public consciousness and sustain awareness of such moments into the future.
The present case in point is Glen Pearcy’s stunning black and white photographs in his Library of Congress collection (AFC 2012/040) that document a vivid slice of the voting rights campaign, which was organized by a coalition of civil rights groups, ranging from local organizers to the national Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In broad strokes, the campaign’s points of high drama include: the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson in February during a march for voting rights in Marion, Alabama; the attempted march from Selma to Montgomery to protest his murder by unarmed protesters, and the retaliation against them by state troopers and sheriff’s deputies armed with tear gas and clubs on “Bloody Sunday” (March 7); the attack on Unitarian minister James Reeb, by white racists in Selma, and his death from his wounds (March 11); President Johnson’s introduction of the Voting Rights bill in Congress (March 15); the culminating march from Selma to Montgomery (March 21-25); and the tragic close to the public phase of the campaign, the shooting death of march participant Viola Liuzzo by Klansmen on the night of March 25.
Some time during the week of March 14th, 1965, Pearcy, then on the Photography Board of the Harvard Crimson, and two fellow student reporters arrived in Montgomery; Pearcy is a Harvard alumnus, class of 1966. He and his friends were joining hundreds from across the nation – activists, college students, faculty members, clergy, ordinary citizens – who were galvanized into action by the brutality of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma the previous week and Dr. King’s appeal for mass support for the marches and protests. In an email to AFC describing the Crimson staff’s goals during their time in Alabama, Pearcy notes:
We spent most of our time in Montgomery, where the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) [along with locals and an influx of college students from several institutions] were marching on the state capitol daily. Those marches often ended in violent, sometimes bloody confrontations with the police and state troopers. And, representing the College newspaper, we were covering the events from the perspective of the students in SNCC rather than the more well-known leaders like Dr. King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Pearcy’s matter-of-fact comments (a reporter’s credo, perhaps) downplay the fact that a self-described “wide-eyed” kid took a long drive from Cambridge, Massachusetts, one weekend in 1965 and found himself immersed in events that changed the course of this nation’s history.
We will have more of Glen Pearcy’s recollections of the events of March 1965 in a subsequent post. For the moment we direct your attention to the video of his talk at the Library in March 2014, when he spoke about his longer involvement in civil rights actions over the course of his life and career as a photographer and filmmaker.
Finally, we ask our friends and colleagues out there to take in the accompanying selection of his never-before-published photographs, which document startling on-the-ground scenes at the height of the freedom struggle. They include SNCC rallies and singing in what we have tentatively identified as Jackson St. Baptist Church and protest marches in and around the area near Alabama State College on Decatur St. We are especially interested in hearing from those of you who were there in 1965 and can help us identify people, places and dates of events in the photographs. When commenting or providing information about an image, please use the blog comments box and refer to the specific item number of the image, as this identification will greatly help us in processing this collection. The images are currently online in archived form.
Enjoy… and stay tuned for the next post on this topic.