On March 31, 1965, Wilcox County, AL student and adult demonstrators conducted a dual march to protest lack of voting rights and school inequality. Previous marches, led by locals with invited guests Dr. Martin Luther King Jr of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC, had managed to secure permits. Denied permits without “out of town” celebrity leaders, the locals determined to proceed with their march. Mayor Reg Albritton and local white men recruited to form a sheriff’s posse attacked marchers by throwing smoke bombs in their route. Local authorities used smoke bombs and tear gas interchangeably to confuse and frighten demonstrators. Experienced demonstrators carried wet towels to help clear stinging tear gas from their eyes.
Student leaders Sim Pettway Sr and Ralph Eggleston of Camden Academy organized this particular march along with adult leaders Daniel Harrell and Major Johns, SCLC field directors who later directed our SCOPE project. One group marched from St. Francis church on Highway 221 the city limits and another that came down the hill on the opposite side of town with a plan to demonstrate in front of the courthouse. Students and adults from Camden, Coy, Gees Bend, and Boling Springs came from St Francis, while students marched from Camden Academy, a K-12 Presbyterian Mission School for Black students.
Thanks to Elbert Goode, we know that the central male student is the late Willie Parker of Coy, AL. This photo was taken by the late great Bill Hudson, one of the top civil rights photographers of the era and is copyright by the Associated Press. I have licensed the use of the image for my forthcoming book, This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Wilcox County Freedom Fight, University of Alabama Press, 2014.
May Daniel Harrell, Major Johns, Willie Parker and all of the foot soldiers of the Wilcox County Freedom Fight who died too young rest in peace knowing that they fought the good fight and that they are remembered.
If you participated in this demonstration or can identify the two young women facing the camera, please leave a comment by clicking on the comment link below. Let’s find those two young women – thanks for your assistance!
© Maria Gitin. All rights reserved.