March 9, 2015

Selma - March 9, 1965

George Docherty, in his autobiography I've Seen The Day, devotes a chapter to the events of Selma including a description of the Ministers March on Tuesday, March 9, following the violence that had broken out at the bridge during the march on Sunday, March 7.  Docherty describes Brown's Chapel where they gathered as crowded to the rafters with hundreds of ministers who had gathered for the march.  They were welcomed gladly with heartfelt gratitude and also warned that there could be no guarantee for their safety after the violence that had broken out two days earlier.  Then Dr. King, who had been up all night in hourly communication with Washington gave this final word:

"We have a constitutional right to walk the highways; we have the right to walk to Montgomery, if our feet get us there. I have no alternative but to lead a march from this place to carry out grievances to the seat of government. I have made my choice. I have got to march. I do not know what lies ahead of us there. There may be beatings, jailings, tear gas. But I would rather die on the highways of Alabama than make a butchery of my conscience."

Docherty writes that about 800 clergy formed a very unmilitaristic line.  He was in the front line with Dr. King, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, Mrs. Paul Douglas (wife of the Illinois Senator), Bishop Lord, and Rabbi Hirsh.  They moved, singing, from Brown's Chapel towards the bridge.  Others joined along the way swelling the marchers to 3,000.  When they came to the bridge, the march was halted as a U.S. Marshall read a document from a U.S. Judge who saw no reason the march could not be delayed until a hearing on the case could be made.  The Marshall read the letter and stood back saying, "I have delivered my order. I shall not interfere with this march, but I do not give you permission to proceed."

The throng continued its slow march up the incline of the bridge. Docherty writes: "When we reached the top, I looked down at a line of blue-helmeted troopers stretched across the roadway ... blocking our way. ... When we reached a point about fifty feet from the troopers ... the officer in charge, walked slowly with deliberate pace towards Dr. King, and raising a bullhorn to his lips announced, 'You are ordered to stop and stand where you are. This march will not continue.'  We stopped."

"We would like to pray," said Dr. King. Permission was granted. ...(after the prayers) The procession ponderously turned around, rather deflated, and made our way back to the church.

Six days later, March 15, 1965, the Voting Rights Act was introduced by President Johnson to a joint session of Congress.  It would be passed, abolishing the poll tax, the grandfather clause, and the literary test. Some 11,000 of Selma's blacks registered to vote.  In his message to the joint session of Congress on March 15, President Johnson said: "At times history and fate meet in a single time in a single place to shape the turning point in man's unending search for freedom.  So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week at Selma, Alabama."