Editor’s note: This post is the second in a series of ongoing articles that cover a five-part lecture series presented by David Domke, professor and chair for the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. The series is entitled “Marching to Selma: How MLK, LBJ and the Civil Rights Movement Changed the World.”
In Nonviolence in the Soul of America: Nashville to Birmingham by Bus, the second lecture in his five-part “Marching to Selma” series, David Domke guided his standing-room-only audience on a journey into the heart and soul of the American civil rights movement. It was fitting and meaningful that this lecture took place on the third Monday in January, the day set aside to honor the extraordinary life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
Domke’s second lecture brought us to Nashville, Tennessee in the late 1950s, where key leaders in the civil rights movement emerged. Next was a series of bus trips with the nonviolent Freedom Riders. During these trips, the Freedom Riders endured horrific beatings and imprisonment as they protested segregation in interstate bus terminals. The final stop in Domke’s lecture journey was in Birmingham, Alabama, where thousands of school children marched for desegregation. During the march, the children endured a brutal police crackdown without appearing to flinch.
Key Leaders Emerge and Achieve
Who were the key organizers of the nonviolent civil rights movement? Who ushered the movement through its darkest hours and shining moments? A calculated decision was made early on that a young man with a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University should serve as the “face” of the civil rights movement. In 1957, at the age of 28, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
Serendipitously that year, King met James Lawson, also 28 years old. Lawson had already been jailed for pacifism for two years and had studied nonviolence with Gandhi for three years in India. As Domke put it, “Lawson was the Pete Carroll who built the team for this movement.”
In the summer of 1958, Lawson traveled to Nashville, where he convened a group of individuals with the grit, determination and savvy to bring the next chapter of the nonviolent civil rights movement to life. They were C.T. Vivian, Bernard Lafayette, John Lewis, Diane Nash, Marion Barry and James Bevel. Each brought a unique strength or “superpower” to the endeavor, which resulted in significant achievements. One such achievement? In three months, they desegregated the lunch counters in Nashville.
Freedom Riders and the Children’s March
In 1961, the Freedom Riders set out to protest segregation at bus terminals across the South. Despite enduring brutal beatings, bloodshed and imprisonment, they did not give up. Two years later in Birmingham, the Children’s March, also known as the Children’s Crusade, took place. Most of us know about King’s eloquent Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Fewer of us know about the Children’s March. During this march, thousands of African-American children, some as young as seven and eight years old, took to the streets in nonviolent protest. They met police brutality, attack dogs and fire hoses. Two thousand eight hundred and ninety five kids were arrested.
Shocking images of the Children’s March (such as that taken by Bill Hudson, above) were broadcast on TV across the United States and the world. The image is emblematic of the showdown between the nonviolent children and Birmingham police, which became a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. During this time, the children of Birmingham helped keep the movement alive with their courage and action.
Yesterday, National Public Radio reported that a judge in South Carolina threw out the convictions of nine black men who integrated a whites-only lunch counter in 1961. This adds veracity to Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation that “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The “Marching to Selma” lecture series continues at 7 p.m., Monday, February 2, with a focus on the Freedom Summer in Mississippi. All funds collected for admission to the lectures go to support students in the UW Department of Communication.