FIRSTHAND ACCOUNT OF “SELMA-MONTGOMERY MARCH”
Rev. Janet Wolfe, a retired Presbyterian pastor in Marshfield, Wisconsin, commemorated the 50th anniversary of her participation in the Civil Rights movement.
Fifty years ago, Rev. Wolfe was a student at U of Colorado in Boulder. She boarded a bus with 32 others and headed for Alabama.
She attended the last day of the Selma-Montgomery March on March 25, 1965. Fortunately, she recorded her experiences and here is an excerpt:
“After wading in a mixture of mud, rain, and old orange peels for 5 ½ hours, we began marching through the Negro section. The spectators were jubilant. There were many old people and mothers with small children. One woman in a wheelchair was vigorously waving with both hands.
Then the iceberg descended! We entered the white community. Most people made no response at all. Downtown, there were many people looking out windows; in one building there were a number of whites and one Negro. The Negro was very reluctant to smile and wave, but he finally responded to our encouragement.
Local dignitaries sat stony-faced in a balcony at the Jefferson Davis Hotel. We waved. There was no response. We heard surprisingly few crank remarks; a few punks delivered some on one corner, but the army cast a pall on this sort of activity.
When we arrived at the capitol, we were seated on the pavement that extended solidly beyond the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, a long block from the capitol. This church was where Martin Luther King began the bus boycott in 1965.
Among the galling things we saw were the confederate flags sewn on the federalized National Guardsmen’s uniforms. A Montgomery policeman not far from me tightly gripped his billy club and glared all afternoon.
At 3 p.m. the mass meeting began. Speakers included Andrew Young, Albert Turner, leader of the Marion, Alabama group, Amelia Boynton, leader of the Selma movement who was injured on the bridge, Dr. Ralph Bunche, A. Philip Randolph, and Rosa Parks.
Martin Luther King’s speech was quite political in tone. The Negro revolution, he said, is part of the twentieth century and must be successful if the Great society is to work. This speech is the source of his well-known saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
He talked about segregation and inferior education, and the need to have access to the ballot box to remedy these conditions. “Selma, Alabama, has become a shining moment in the conscience of man. If the worst in American life lurked in the dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it.”
“Our reasons for going: Many people ask why “outside agitators” go to Alabama. We are not outside agitators. We are citizens of the United States, and Alabama was not being run according to the principles of democratic government. …
The unconcerned people of Nazi Germany minded their own business while Hitler rose and murdered six million Jews. The right to vote is basic and non-negotiable. It is not a right that has to be earned, but a right that has existed since the founding of the nation.
We went also so that we might have a better picture of the situation in the South, in order to make a deeper impression on the more complacent citizens of this nation.”
You can watch the interview of Janet Wolfe at