Selma 1965 I

Program Information

Series: A Moment in Time
Duration: 00:03:42
Year Produced: 2009

In the long civil rights struggle of African Americans, few places have greater significance than Selma, Alabama.

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Lead: In the long civil rights struggle of African Americans, few places have greater significance than Selma, Alabama.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: The black belt runs like a splintered crescent through the heart of the southern United States. From Carolina to the Mississippi River, there in antebellum times lay the great plantations where black slaves sweated cotton from rich black lowland soil. There, after the Civil War, the freedmen stayed, constituting large parts of the population of many counties. There, they were watched warily by a white ruling class which used artful and occasionally brutal means of suppressing their civil rights--barring them from white schools, cafes, lunch counters, theaters, and the white sections of public transportation--always vigilant to a keep a black man in his place.

Near the center of this black belt lay the small river town of Selma, Alabama--fifty miles west of the state capitol at Montgomery. Of the 29,000 people who lived in Selma in 1965, 15,000--more than half--were African American. Three hundred blacks could vote. In 1963 the National Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee sent several young workers to Selma to help increase the number of minority voters. It was not easy. The county Registration Board met only two days a month and would reject black applications for any trivial reason, such as the failure to cross a "t" or dot an "i."

The volunteers began to turn up the heat by leading marches to the courthouse downtown and rallies in the churches, but in July 1964 the movement was paralyzed when a segregationist state judge banned all marches and mass meetings in Selma. The Negro leaders reached outside the community again, this time seeking the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., the now-famous symbol of nonviolent resistance to racism and segregation.

Next time: Bloody Sunday

At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.