Today’s post was written by Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist at the National Archives in College Park.
This weekend the 87th annual Academy Awards will air, and many of the Best Picture nominees’ subjects are culled from historical events or people. Selma (directed by Ava DuVernay) is a dramatization of the events that happened around the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. The event was organized in order to call attention to the continued discrimination and denial of civil and voting rights in the Deep South, and ultimately involved two of the leading civil rights organizations – the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). At the time, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were posted in and around Selma, Alabama observing and reporting on voting rights violations and the impending march. A case file was opened to investigate the events of March 7th, “Bloody Sunday”. The documents and photographs in this post all come from the file 44-28492 Section 1, Serials 1-42, Alabama (1965) 3/7 Selma to Montgomery March, Edmund Pettus Bridge (Photos)… (NAID 7634471).
Representative John Lewis (D-GA), then chairman of SNCC, and Reverend Hosea Williams of SCLC attempted to lead the march on Sunday, March 7th. Just like in the movie, the violent response from Alabama State Troopers and a mob of citizens was broadcast on national television for all to see. Citizens from around the country were largely shocked by the way the marchers were abused, and many wrote to the government to express their outrage. In the letter from Alice Guillemette of Massachusetts to J. Edgar Hoover, she questions “whether or not you agree with your FBI agent, Mr. James M. Barbo of Mobile, Ala. that you think the State Troopers acted in the interest of public safety by tear-gassing Negro marchers last Sunday at Selma, Ala.” On the broadcast she remarks, “It was the most monstrous, brutal thing I’ve ever seen,” and makes clear that she is a “white, Anglo-Saxon and Christian and old” woman supporting the cause of the marchers. The case file includes additional letters and postcards of white and black people across the country expressing the same sentiment.
Also part of the Civil Rights case file is the statements taken by FBI agents of the marchers and others that were assaulted on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Among the most notable was the statement from John Lewis, who had received a head injury in the melee.
The file “44-28492 Section 1, Serials 1-42, Alabama (1965) 3/7 Selma to Montgomery March, Edmund Pettus Bridge (Photos), Martin Luther King, Jr., A.D. King, Ralph Abernathy, A. Philip Randolph, John Robert Lewis, Hosea Williams” (NAID 7634471) is now open and available. To get a copy of this file, please contact our FOIA office.