Tag Archives: Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

On This Day – “25,000 Go to Alabama’s Capitol”

On March 25, 1965, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led 25,000 marchers to the state capitol in Montgomery, Ala., to protest the denial of voting rights to blacks.


“No Wave of Racism Can Stop Us Now”

By Roy Reed

Montgomery, Ala., March 25 — The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led 25,000 Negroes and whites to the shadow of the State Capitol here today and challenged Alabama to put an end to racial discrimination.


Gov. George C. Wallace sent word about 2 P.M. that he would receive a delegation from the marchers after the rally, but the delegation met twice with rebuffs when it tried to see him. State policemen stopped the group the first time at the edge of the Capitol grounds and said no one was to be let through.

The delegation was later admitted to the Capitol, but was told that the Governor had closed his office for the day. The group left without giving its petition to anyone.

At Steps of Capitol

The Alabama Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery ended shortly after noon at the foot of the Capitol steps, and as people from all over the nation stood facing the white-columned statehouse, Dr. King assured them:

“We are not about to turn around. We, are on the move now. Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us.”

The throng let out a mighty cheer, so loud that it was easily audible 75 yards away in the office of Governor Wallace, where the Governor was seen several times parting the venetian blinds of a window overlooking the rally.

Even though the 54-mile march from Selma was a dramatization of a grievance, its windup at the steps of the Capitol carried the trappings of triumph.

The march was hailed by several speakers as the greatest demonstration in the history of the civil rights movement. The caravan that followed Dr. King up Dexter Avenue up the broad slope that once accommodated the inaugural parade of the President of the Confederate States of American, comprised friends of the civil rights movement from all sections of America and some from abroad.

Virtually all of the notables of the movement were there, and the speakers’ platform held two Negro winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King and Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, United Nations Under Secretary for Special Political Affairs.

Other Negro leaders included Roy Wilkins, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Whitney M. Young, director of the National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Bayard A. Rustlin, who with Mr. Randolph was one of the organizers of the March on Washington in 1963, and John Lewis, president, of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Other notables included James Baldwin, the author; Harry Belafonte, the singer; Joan Baez, the folk singer, and others.

The march started Sunday at Selma. It reached the outskirts of Montgomery yesterday after four days and nights on the road under the protection of Army troops and federalized Alabama National Guardmen. The troops were sent be President Johnson after Governor Wallace said Alabama could not afford the expense of protecting the marchers.

The little band that made the entire march, much of it through desolate lowlands, was joined today and last night by thousands who flocked to Montgomery to walk the last three and one-half miles of the trip to the Capitol.

Troops Out in Force

The marchers carried with them a petition to Governor Wallace saying:

“We have come not only five days and 50 miles but we have come from three centuries of suffering and hardship. We have come to you, the Governor of Alabama, to declare that we must have our freedom NOW. We must have the right to vote; we must have equal protection of the law and an end to police brutality.”

Federal troops who guarded the marchers and brought them safely to Montgomery were out in force at the Capitol today. Eight hundred troops lined Dexter Avenue, one soldier every 25 feet behind wooden barricades set between the street and the sidewalks.

Troops stood on the roofs of buildings along the march route through downtown Montgomery and on those of the office buildings looking out on the rally at the Capitol steps.

The rally never got on to state property. It was confined to the street in front of the steps.

The throng stretched down eight-laned Dexter Avenue a block and a half. Its cheers could be heard for blocks.

The line of marchers who walked from the City of St. Jude, a Catholic school and hospital, where they spent last night, stretched out so long that when Dr. King and leaders reached the makeshift speakers’ platform at the head of Dexter Avenue, the end of the line did not arrive for nearly an hour and a half.

Tension High

Tension was high in the city, particularly after the rally, as the thousands of visitors scurried for taxis, buses, trains, cars and airplanes to get out of town before nightfall.

Dr. King, in an interview after the rally, said the civil rights campaign would continue in the Alabama Black Belt.

“We will continue to march people to the courthouses,” he said. “If there is resistance, naturally we will have to expose the resistance and the injustice we still face. There could be violence in some areas, but we feel a moral compulsion to go forward, anyway.”

He said the Negro movement would turn much of its attention in the weeks ahead to trying to pass President Johnson’s voting-rights bill in Congress.

“We want immediate passage,” he said. “We will lobby for this in many areas of the country.”

In the address at the end of the three-and-a-half-hour rally, Dr. King urged his listeners onward in the civil rights struggle.

“Let us march on segregated schools until every vestige of segregation and inferior education becomes a thing of the past, and Negroes and whites study side by side in the socially healing context of the classroom,” he said.

“Let us march on ballot boxes, march on ballot boxes until race baiters disappear from the political arena.”

He referred to the tumultuous events at Selma in the last two months, during which time the voting-rights campaign that he began there turned into a general protest against racial injustice, with two men dead and scores injured.

“Yet Selma, Alabama, has become a shining moment in the conscience of man,” he said. “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.”

“The confrontation of good and evil compressed in the tiny community of Selma, generated the massive power that turned the whole nation to a new course,” he said.

“Alabama has tried to nurture and defend evil, but the evil is choking to death in the dusty roads and streets of this state.”

Dr. King spoke with passion, and the thousands sitting in the street beneath him responded with repeated outbursts of approval.

Several times he urged his followers to continue their support of nonviolent demonstrations, with the aim of achieving understanding with the white community.

“Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man,” he said, “but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society that can live with its conscience.”

He ended his address with a peroration on the theme, “How long must justice by crucified and truth buried?” a spirited quotation of a verse of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and finally a burst of “Glory, hallelujah,” repeated four times.

The crowd rose to its feet in one great surge, and the applause and cheering reverberated through the Capitol grounds.

Two or three dozen state employes who had watched from the Capitol steps stood impassively.

The committee of 18 Negro and two white Alabamians designated to deliver the Negroes’ petition to Governor Wallace walked the one, uphill block from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to Bainbridge Street at about 5:40 P.M. (C.S.T.).

State-police jurisdiction over the Capitol grounds begins at the curb closest to the Capitol steps, and 70 blue-helmeted state troopers had been deployed at the curb line of Bainbridge Street half an hour before the committee arrived. They were backed by 50 uniformed conservation patrolmen, standing two deep halfway up the Capitol steps.

When the Rev. Joseph E. Lowrey, a Negro from Birmingham, serving as chairman of the delegation, asked Maj. W. L. Allen of the Alabama Highway Patrol to let the committee pass, the officer replied.

“I don’t know anything about that.” He said his orders where to let no one through.

A delegation of Governor Wallace’s top aides was already gathering inside the locked front door of the Capitol.

Instructions were then issued to Major Allen from inside the Capitol over an Army walkie-talkie. Maj. Gen. Alfred C. Harrison, the Alabama Adjutant General, who was dressed in civilian clothes, gave these instructions. The committee then walked up the Capitol steps.

About 10 feet inside the door, however, Mr. Lowrey came face to face with Cecil C. Jackson Jr., the Governor’s executive secretary. Mr. Jackson was crippled by polio as a youth. He stood in Mr. Lowrey’s path on aluminum crutches.

“The Capitol is closed today,” Mr. Jackson began, in a calm, steady voice. “The Governor has designated me to receive your petition.”

“We are very sorry that he cannot see us,” Mr. Lowrey replied, almost immediately, clasping copies of the petition to his chest. “Please advise the Governor that as citizens of this state we have legitimate grievances to present to him. Please advise the Governor that as citizens of this state we have legitimate grievances to present to him. Please advise the Governor that we will return at another time.”

“That would be appropriate,” Mr. Jackson answered. The petitions never left Mr. Lowrey’s hands.