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.
Enjoy… and stay tuned for the next post on this topic.
What beautiful, poignant, powerful images, Glen. Thanks to the Library of Congress for publishing your important work.
Dr. Cook, Thank you very much for your comments and we feel the same way about Glen’s work. It IS important and we are very gratified that Glen and other donors have seen fit to use the national library to make their work more widely available. It would be great if more folks were to look and respond.
Thank you so much for this extraordinary resource. We will encourage teachers to use the photos along with the article by Dr. Emilye Crosby, “Ten Things You Should Know About Selma.” (http://zinnedproject.org/2015/01/selma-ten-things/) We will share this blog on our social media and on our websites (Zinn Education Project, Teaching for Change, and Civil Rights Teaching). What a wonderful and timely resource for highlighting the people’s history of Selma.
Dear Deborah, Coming from our friends at Teaching for Change, its an especially gratifying comment. Glad to see the resources can be of use for your educational mission. More to come, Guha Shankar
In this time of camera phones and Instagram, it’s easy to lose sight of how challenging it was to document the Movement. Thanks to all of those with the talents, means, and courage to photograph this valuable piece of American History.
Thank you so much. That’s a very perceptive and thoughtful comment…which ought to be expected as it is expressed by the daughter of one of the most fearless and inexhaustible freedom fighters in the struggle, Lawrence Guyot. His recorded interview for the national “Civil Rights History Project” is available to audiences on the LC website : //www.loc.gov/item/afc2010039_crhp0005/ . His story, and those of his contemporaries, are deeply appreciated and admired by all of us at the Library and the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, who have been involved in the initiative.
Thanks Glen. I guess I’m in those photos somewhere.
Hello Mr. Rice. Can you share a little about the circumstances that took you South and what was going on in the streets. Were you there with any particular group – college, church, etc? Do the photos jog any memories of fellow marchers? We will have more of these next week so keep an eye out, for yourself or friends. And thanks for looking in.
Juanita colleges would have the best resource 16 students serious injury 2 professors Elmer Maas & Professor Donald Hope on front page on NY times March 17 1965
Thank you, Mr. Veasey, for that valuable bit of information. We rely on our friends and patrons to help fill the historical record.
Harriet Richardson on Board of Trustee at Juanita College was there Harriet Richardson & her beloved teacher Galway Kinnell Harriet trying to stop the blood from his head half of paper on Life Magazine March 1965
Thank you, Mr. Veasey! Emily Martin at Carlow University (formerly Mount Mercy College), Pittsburgh, independently sent a link to the photograph you mention; it is by the renowned Charles Moore. It helped us match both Ms. Richardson and Mr.Kinnell’s names to their images in the Pearcy collection. Please continue your invaluable historical reconstruction… we appreciate it greatly!
Guhu Shankar Thank You My connection with the Mongomery massacre was Professer Elmer Maas was kinda beyond friendship for 25 years.I first met Elmer on trial to destroying our finest nuclear weapons in Norristown Penn If I may help in any way feel free Elmer was our hardest working peace activist in USA No 1 in US history travelled as much for Peace as Elmer (that i met) leaving us a pathway thru useless nuclear weapons behind
Thank you for that information. Elmer Maas’s name has come up often in our research on Juniata College alum and faculty.
Its seems to me the Montgomery massacre was kinda forgotten in history by all except the victims who I never talk with about this subject.In 2003 a paper for her Phd was wrote “Uncommon Conviction the Juanita College students response to Civil Rights ” At the Juanita College Library Author was I will send when I get back to Huntingdon Pa The Libraries there are wonderful & very helpful for your any questions
The nun in the picture is Sister De Lellis from Mount Mercy College Pittsburgh, Pa and the young woman in the foreground is me. I was a junior nursing student at Mt. Mercy when I participated in the demonstration on March 16 in Montgomery. I feel privileged to have been involved in an event that eventually led to such historic legislation. Democracy is fragile and we must continue to uphold the ideals outlined in our Constitution.
I’m so pleased to see that there is a photographic archive. marching was a trans formative experience for me and helped to shape my views and actions in the years ahead.
Dear Barbara O’Connor (King),
That’s one of the best moments we’ve had from running this blog! Thank you for the appreciation of our efforts. We feel privileged to able to find a way to bring to light the names and stories of people, who like yourself, helped changed the course of this country. We would love to hear more about your experiences and will be in touch with you shortly.
afc 2012040 046 The nun is Sister DeLellus from Mount Mercy College in Pittsburgh. photo: 2012040 041 The gentleman holding the arm of the injured fellow is Sam Carcionne , professor, also from Mount Mercy College.
I was one of the Juniata College contingent, which was the second group to arrive in Montgomery. (The first was from Antioch College in Ohio.) I have written an illustrated narrative of this action and of further civil rights activities in rural Alabama the following year. I have no original photos but tons of memorabilia, including a pencil-sketched black panther drawn for me by Stokely Carmichael in 1966 at The Chicken Shack in Selma, AL. Too many memories to include here….
I am the young man, 20 years old at the time, holds by the sleeping bag, which I used to protect my self from the billy club wielded by the posse member when he hit me on the head while using his horse to pin me against the building I was standing next to, preventing me from escaping front m his blows. The posse organized by the Sheriff, was composed of 16 men on horseback, 6 uniformed Sheriffs & the others recruited from a local rodeo, having been deputized for the day. There were 40 of us in the small group that were attacked. We were returning from the Dexter Avenue Babtist Church’s steps where The Antioch College delegation (27 strong) + 13 others had walked 2 X 2, serving as decoys being followed by city police cruisers, in an ntentional effort to draw the police away from the larger demonstration (2000 strong) of students from the Alabama State Teachers College, who were demonstrating in support of voter’s rights, the day after President Johnson had signed the the Voter’s Rights Act of 1965. Of the forty of us attacked, 8 were hospitalized. Dr. King came from Selma to Montgomery that evening, spoke at an indoor rally that night, and invited community members to a demonstration to be held the following day to confront the Sheriff to protest the Sheriff’s Posse’s actions and attacks against the lawful protestEd’s earlier that day. 7000 people responded and stood in the rain for several hours in front of the Sheriff’ s offices, while the Reverind Dr. King was negotiating an apology from the Sheriff for the beatings the Sheriff’ deputies had carried out the day before. He also negotiated a commitment from the Sheriff that peaceful picketers on the sidewalk would not be required to have permits to exercise their First Amendment Rights. The next day the Antioch delegation joined 53 others to test that agreement. A group of 40 African Americans & 40 Caucasian Americans, each carrying signs reading “ One Man, one Vote,” established the first interracial picket line ever established in front of Governor Wallace’s Whitehouse. We were forced into the street by the Montgomery City Police, who threw up a cordon of wooden horses around us, while the White Citizens Council Held a rally across the street from us. They shouted durogatory “cat calls” at us for 2 hours … and ended their rally being told by the the speaker that it was time to break up their gathering, and that there was nothing stopping any of them from returning in a couple of hours with “shotguns,” within five minutes of their departure our group of eighty were arrested and taken to the Montgomery City Jail, where the group remained until the second “Selma March” arrived 25,000 strong. . . led by Dr. King, who asked each person there to donate $1 per person to raise the bond to bail out the 160 +/- of their brothers and sisters still engaging in a hunger strike 11 days long at the City Jsil. Though I had been released on day 8 at the request of physicians from the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR), after they diagnosed me with strep throat. I returned to Antioch weighing 11lbs. Dr King raised $16,000 within 1 hour, and bailed out those who had remained in jail.
Dear Dr. Gray,
My regrets at not having seen your amazing response to the post sooner. I will add your story of your expereince to the files to the collection and append your name to the collection record. Thank you for stepping out so courageously on the front lines of the struggle. A question occurs to me as to whether you recognize any of your college-mates and others in the photographs? DO you still keep in touch with friends from those days? I will look into the collection again to see if any additional images might be useful for you,
Hi Mr. Shankar — Somehow i missed your request to me above dated 13 March 2015. Three years! I worked with Glen and Sue for a year for the SWGP. That’s the back of my head in Glen’s staff meeting photo, and me hangin’ on to the porch post behind Glen. I was a research engineer in Detroit in 1965 when I decided to join the last day of the Selma march. Then i quit my job and spent a summer with SCLC’s SCOPE project. I worked in inner city Detroit for a summer, started a masters degree in theology, then joined the SWGP. This is all probably too late to be of use, but thank you for all the work you have put into this. –M
Thank you! I jut responded to a previous post on this topic. Lets not let so much time pass this go-around!
Photo Marchers are herded by Sheriff’s deputies, 03/16/1965,
Glen Pearcy Collection (afc2012040_046_42.jpg)
The young man wearing the checked shirt on the far left, near the back, directly in front of police officer on horseback with the helmet is my father. Rev. W. Gerald Witt (Jerry). He was the pastor of the Evangelical United Brethren Church in Huntingdon, PA and came with the students from Juniata College. Galway Kinnell is also in this photo in the bloodied light colored shirt holding a jacket in his hand. More pictures of this day can be found in the March 26, 1965 issue of Life Magazine. Rev. Witt is in that article face down on the ground knocked unconscious by a horseman’s billy club. Jerry is still living (2019) and is in his 80’s. Thanks for these pictures and their inspiration to continue the calling that never ends of creating relationships of love and justice that Dr. King meant by “beloved community.” It isn’t easy but it is deeply meaningful.
Dear Mr. Witt, Thank you for sharing your story with us and please extend our deep appreciation to your dad for his courage in going to Montgomery. In case you may not have see it there’s a companion post to this blog with additional photographs from Glen Pearcy’s collection here: //blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2015/03/marching-in-montgomery-1965-reconsidered/ > please do take a look and it would be great if your and your dad could put more names to faces for us! We love knowing that kind of detail.
Guha Shankar, AFC
My father is Sam Carcione. I will forward this link to him. He likely knows several other participants. My mother was also there, both from Mt. Mercy (now Carlow) College. I will also share this with her. My father was a math professor at the time. He is now retired. Both of my parents continue to fight for justice.
Dear Lara Klick, Thanks so much for this note. However, your father already responded to the post after it was posted on the second blog post about the Montgomery campaign. See his comment on the site – //blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2015/03/marching-in-montgomery-1965-reconsidered/.
My father Lived in Selma, During the 1930s and 1940s. and We Traveled to Selma 2 Times in my Lifetime. I have a Great Collection of Black Memorabilia, That I Love and appreciate. Today I was working with my 2 Sons and others in Cambridge, Mass. Doing a House clean-out and In the Attic my son Matt found a Photograph of 3 Black Children about 3 years old. Signed By Glen Pearcy. Signed Selma, Alabama, March,1965 If you would like me to send a picture to You Please let me Know. Thanks Joe
Dear Mr. Bayles,
Thank you for your kind offer. While the Library very much appreciates the gesture, an heirloom such as this would be best if it were maintained by your family.