Monday, March 7, 2011

Alabama Police Use Gas and Clubs to Rout Negroes


On This Day


Front Page Image

Alabama Police Use Gas and Clubs to Rout Negroes

57 Are Injured at Selma as Troopers Break up Rights Walk in Montgomery


He Reveals Plans to Lead a New March Tomorrow - Court Action Planned

By Roy Reed
Special to The New York Times


Gross Integration Plan Backs Allen on Schools; Omits Busing and Pairing: Reforms Advised: New Grade Patterns, Shifting of 32,000 Students Urged

Vast New Program of Aid for Arts Urged on Nation: A Report by Rockefeller Brothers Fund Cites Need for Support: Cultural Establishment Is Seeking New Patrons From Broad Base

Marines Land to Guard Danang Base; China-Soviet Rift Swaying U. S. Policy: Force 'Strictly Defensive' - Arrival Is Protested by Hanoi and Peking: Washington Is Striving to Influence Moscow Against Militancy: Russians Silent 2 Weeks on British Suggestion for Vietnam Talks

Bonn Will Seek Formal Israel Tie: West Germany Also Decides to Maintain Diplomatic Relations With Cairo

Moses Asks Garage at 59th St. Bridge; Plan Angers Barnes

Governor Warns on Minimum Wage: Tells the Legislature to Link Increase to U. S. Action or Risk Loss of Industry

Tax Withholding May Be Revised: Administration Studies Plan to Reduce Underpayments - Aid Unlikely This Year

Congress Expected to Speed Medicare And School Bills

Cubans Deface Soviet Embassy: Six Arrested in Washington in Protest Over Russian Troops on Island

Professors at Yale Drop Tenure Fight

Pope Opens an Era by Celebrating Mass in Italian

Selma, Ala., March 7, 1965 - Alabama state troopers and volunteer officers of the Dallas County sheriff's office tore through a column of Negro demonstrators with tear gas, nightsticks and whips here today to enforce Gov. George C. Wallace's order against a protest march from Selma to Montgomery.

At least 17 Negroes were hospitalized with injuries and about 40 more were given emergency treatment for minor injuries and tear gas effects.

The Negroes reportedly fought back with bricks and bottles at one point as they were pushed back into the Negro community, far away from most of a squad of reporters and photographers who had been restrained by the officers.

A witness said that Sheriff James G. Clark and a handful of volunteer possemen were pushed back by flying debris when they tried to herd the angry Negroes into the church where the march had begun.

[In Washington the Justice Department announced that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Selma had been directed to make a full and prompt investigation and to gather evidence whether "unnecessary force was used by law officers and others" in halting the march.]

Dr. King in Atlanta

Some 200 troopers and possemen with riot guns, pistols, tear gas bombs and nightsticks later chased all the Negro residents of the Browns Chapel Methodist Church area into their apartments and houses. They then patrolled the streets and walks for an hour before driving away.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was to have led the march, was in Atlanta. After the attack on the marchers, Dr. King issued a statement announcing plans to begin another march Tuesday covering the 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery. He said he had agreed not to lead today's march after he had learned that the troopers would block it. Dr. King also said he would seek a court order barring further interference with the marchers.

John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was among the injured. He was admitted to the Good Samaritan Hospital with a possible skull fracture.

Mr. Lewis and Hosea Williams, an aide to Dr. King, led the marchers back to the church after the encounter with the officers. Mr. Lewis, before going to the hospital, made a speech to the crowd huddled angry and weeping in the sanctuary.

Troops are Sought

"I don't see how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam - I don't see how he can send troops to the Congo - I don't see how he can send troops to Africa and can't end troops to Selma, Ala.," he said. The Negroes roared their approval.

"Next time we march," he said, "we may have to keep going when we get to Montgomery. We may have to go on to Washington."

The suppression of the march, which was called to dramatize the Negroes' voter-registration drive, was swift and thorough.

About 525 Negroes had left Browns Chapel and walked six blocks to Broad Street, then across Pettus Bridge and the Alabama River, where a cold wind cut at their faces and whipped their coats. They were young and old and they carried an assortment of packs, bedrolls and lunch sacks.

The troopers, more than 50 of them, were waiting 300 yards beyond the end of the bridge.

Behind and around the troopers were a few dozen possemen, 15 of them on horses, and perhaps 100 white spectators. About 50 Negroes stood watching beside a yellow school bus well away from the troopers. The marchers had passed about three dozen more possemen at the other end of the bridge. They were to see more of that group.

The troopers stood shoulder to shoulder in a line across both sides of the divided four-lane highway. They put on gas masks and held their nightsticks ready as the Negroes approached, marching two abreast, slowly and silently.

When the Negroes were 50 feet away, a voice came over an amplifying system commanding them to stop. They stopped.

The leader of the troopers, who identified himself as Maj. John Cloud said, "This is an unlawful assembly. Your march is not conclusive to the public safety. You are ordered to disperse and go back to your church or to your homes."

Mr. Williams answered from the head of the column.

"May we have a word with the major?" he asked.

"There is no word to be had," the major replied.

Two-Minute Warning

The two men went through the same exchange twice more, then the major said, "You have two minutes to turn around and go back to your church."

Several seconds went by silently. The Negroes stood unmoving.

The next sound was the major's voice. "Troopers, advance," he commanded.

The troopers rushed forward, their blue uniforms and white helmets blurring into a flying wedge as they moved.

The wedge moved with such force that it seemed almost to pass over the waiting column instead of through it.

The first 10 or 20 Negroes were swept to the ground screaming, arms and legs flying and packs and bags went skittering across the grassy divider strip and on to the pavement on both sides.

Those still on their feet retreated.

Spectators Cheer

The troopers continued pushing, using both the force of their bodies and the prodding of their nightsticks.

A cheer went up from the white spectators lining the south side of the highway.

The mounted possemen spurred their horses and rode at a run into the retreating mass. The Negroes cried out as they crowded together for protection and the whites on the sideline whooped and cheered.

The Negroes paused in their retreat for perhaps a minute still screaming and huddling together.

Suddenly there was a report, like a gunshot, and a gray cloud spewed over the troopers and the Negroes.

"Tear gas!" someone yelled.

The cloud began covering the highway. Newsmen, who were confined by four troopers to a corner 100 yards away, began to lose sight of the action.

But before the cloud finally hid it all there were several seconds of unobstructed view. Fifteen or twenty nightsticks could be seen through the gas flailing at the heads of the marchers.

The Negroes Flee

The Negroes broke and ran. Scores of them streamed across the parking lot of the Selma Tractor Company. Troopers and possemen, mounted and unmounted, went after them.

Several more tear gas bombs were set off. One report was heard that sounded different. A white civil rights worker said later that it was a shotgun blast and that the pellets tore a hole in the brick wall of a hamburger stand five feet from him.

After about 10 minutes, most of the Negroes were rounded up. They began to move toward the city through the smell of the tear gas, coughing and crying as they stumbled onto Pettus Bridge.

Four or five women still lay on the grass strip where the troopers had knocked them down. Two troopers passed among them and ordered them to get up and join the others. The women lay still.

The two men then set off another barrage of tear gas and the women struggled to their feet, blinded and gasping, and limped across the road. One was Mrs. Amelia Boynton, one of the Selma leaders of the Negro movement. She was treated later at the hospital.

Lloyd Russell of Atlanta, a white photographer who had stayed at the other end of the bridge, said he saw at least four carloads of possemen overtake the marchers as they re-entered Broad Street. He said the possemen jumped from the cars and began beating the Negroes with nightsticks.

Two other witnesses said they saw possemen using whips on the fleeing Negroes as they recrossed the bridge.

The other newsmen were finally allowed to follow the retreat.

Ron Gibson, a reporter for The Birmingham News, reached Browns Chapel ahead of the other newsmen. He said later that he had seen Sheriff Clark lead a charge with about half a dozen possemen to try to force the Negroes from Sylvan Street into the church.

Mr. Gibson said the Negroes fell back momentarily, then surged forward and began throwing bricks and bottles. He said the officers had to retreat until reinforcements arrived. One posseman was cut under the eye with a brick, he said.

Mr. Gibson said that Wilson Baker, Selma's Commissioner of Public Safety, intervened and persuaded the Negroes to enter the church. He said Captain Baker held back Sheriff Clark and his possemen, who were regrouping for another assault.

Mr. Gibson said that Sheriff Clark was struck on the face by a piece of brick but was not injured.

When the other newsmen arrived, more than 100 possemen were packed into Sylvan Street a block from the church. They were joined shortly by the 0 troopers, who had been called back to regroup after turning back the marchers.

The ground floor of the two-story patronage next to the church was turned into an emergency hospital for an hour and a half.

Negroes lay on the floors and chairs, many weeping and moaning. A girl in red slacks was carried from the house screaming. Mrs. Boynton lay semiconscious on a table. Doctors and nurses threaded feverishly through the crowd administering first aid and daubing a solution of water and baking soda on the eyes of those who had been in the worst of the gas.

From the hospital came a report that the victims had suffered fractures of ribs, heads, arms and legs, in addition to cuts and bruises.

Hundreds of Negroes, including many who had not been on the march, milled angrily in front of the church.

An old Negro who had just heard that officers had beaten a Negro on his own porch said to a friend, "I wish the bastard would try to come in my house."

The Negro leaders worked through the crowd urging calm and nonviolence.

At the end of the street the possemen and troopers could be seen grouping into a formation. The officers left after an hour, and tonight the Negroes emerged from their houses and poured into Browns Chapel for a mass meeting.

At the meeting Mr. Williams, who was not injured, told the 700 Negroes present about the plans for the Tuesday march.

"I fought in World War II," Mr. Williams said, "and I once was captured by the German army, and I want to tell you that the Germans never were as inhuman as the state troopers of Alabama."

© 2011 The New York Times Company


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


No comments: