Remembering 1963 through NARA Records

Today’s blog post is by Tina L. Ligon.


2013 marks the 50th anniversary of several significant events regarding the modern Civil Rights Movement. The year 1963 witnessed the murder of Mississippi activist Medgar Evers, the forced desegregation of the University of Alabama, the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs (MOW), the death of W. E. B. Du Bois, the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. These key events were investigated and documented by various agencies in the US federal government including the Department of Justice (DOJ), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the United States Commission on Civil Rights. The National Archives and the presidential libraries offer a wealth of textual documents, moving images, and still pictures illustrating these events.


U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, far left, with Secretary Gale Norton and Arthur Price, Jr., Pastor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, at ceremonies designating the Church, key civil rights movement meeting place and site of 1963 bombing, as National Historic Landmark, 02/19/2006 (ARC ID: 5629491)

On the evening of June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy gave a nationally televised speech in support of Civil Rights to thousands around the country and the world. Within hours after the speech, Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers was gunned down in his own driveway. Evers, a World War II veteran, was the field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Mississippi, who organized boycotts, set up NAACP chapters, and assisted with the enrollment of James Meredith in to the University of Mississippi. Evers was born on July 2, 1925 in Decatur, Mississippi. He served in the United States Army during World War II and earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Business Administration from Alcorn College. Evers married Myrlie Beasley in 1951 and together they had three children.

A man wearing a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hat. at the March on Washington, 08/28/1963

The National Archives holds several types of records relating to the life and legacy of Medgar Evers. Record Group 65 Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) consists of case files, affidavits, correspondences, maps, newspaper clippings, and photographs on the investigation of the assassination of Evers and the resulting trial of White Citizens’ Council member Byron de la Beckwith who was charged with his murder. Also, within this record group are records documenting the Memorial March for Medgar Evers that was sponsored by the NAACP in 1963 and in 1970. These records must be screened for personal privacy [FOIA (b)(6)] and law enforcement information [FOIA (b)(7)] prior to public release. Available through the online catalog are scanned images of FBI investigations on the emerging Medgar Evers Rifle Clubs (located within the Classification 157 (Civil Unrest) Headquarters Case Files, 1957-1978). These clubs started in Cleveland, Ohio after the brutal murder of a white clergyman who was involved in a civil rights protest. Led by Lewis Robinson, these rifle clubs spread across the country in order to protect civil rights protesters.


Author James Baldwin with actors Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston at the March on Washington, 08/28/1963

As part of the continuing Civil Rights protest in the 1960s, A. Philip Randolph (Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters), James Farmer (CORE), John Lewis (SNCC), Martin Luther King, Jr. (SCLC), Roy Wilkins (NAACP) and Whitney Young (National Urban League) organized a major march on the National Mall to raise national attention of and to support upcoming legislation concerning social and economic injustices found around the country. Bayard Rustin, a long-time activist, coordinated and implemented the logistics of the MOW. On August 28, 1963, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial to hear musical selections by Mahalia Jackson, Bob Dylan, and the Eva Jessye Choir, as well as speeches by Walter Reuther, Floyd McKissick, and the famous “I Have a Dream” speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.


A group of young women at the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., 08/28/1963 (ARC ID: 542065)

The National Archives holds numerous photographs, moving images, and textual records showcasing the wide range of people interacting with each other, including video footage of the speakers at the MOW from Record Group 306 Records of the US Information Agency. People featured in the moving images and photographs include entertainers Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne, Marlon Brando, Joan Baez, Paul Newman, Sammy Davis, Jr., Charlton Heston, and Odetta. Many of these images can be accessed through ARC. RG 65 FBI has documentation and photographs relating to the MOW in the Civil Unrest (Class 157) Case Files. The FBI records must be screened for national security [FOIA (b)(1)], personal privacy [FOIA (b)(6)], and law enforcement information [FOIA (b)(7)] prior to public release.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mathew Ahmann in a crowd at the March on Washington, 08/28/1963 (ARC ID: 542015)


One of the more tragic events of 1963 was the murder of four young girls in Birmingham, Alabama. On the morning of September 15, 1963, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair were preparing for the morning’s sermon at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church when the box of dynamite hidden in the church exploded. Twenty-two people were injured in the blast, including Sarah Collins, who is still suffering from injuries received in the explosion and the added mental anguish from the experience. The assailants in this case were Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton, and Bobby Cherry, all members of the local Ku Klux Klan. This event shook the nation and set the stage for the needed change that eventually lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, key meeting place during civil rights movement and site of 1963 bombing, designated as National Historic Landmark, 02/21/2006 (ARC ID: 5629789)

RG 60 General Records of the Department of Justice (DOJ) consists of correspondence, memorandums, newspaper clippings, personal notes, and reports detailing events surrounding the bombing in the Civil Rights (Class 144) Litigation Case Files and Enclosures series. RG 65 FBI holds documentation on the investigation of church bombing in its Civil Unrest (Class 157) Case Files. Series in both RG 60 and RG 65 must be screened for national security [FOIA (b)(1)], personal privacy [FOIA (b)(6)], and law enforcement information [FOIA (b)(7)] prior to public release. In Record Group 48 Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior are photographs on the designation of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church as a National Historic Landmark in 2006. Pictured in the photographs are US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, and Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Pastor Arthur Price. There are many digital images from the ceremony available in ARC.


*Access to classified records from RG 60 DOJ and RG 65 FBI requires a Freedom of Information ACT (FOIA) request. For more information on filing a FOIA request please visit:


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