March 7 marks the 45th anniversary of a pivotal event in the Civil Rights Movement, Bloody Sunday. Henry Hampton was in Selma, Alabama for the events of that weekend.
This NPR story recalls the events of what would become knows as “Bloody Sunday.”
President Barack Obama is marking the 45th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” by praising “these heroes” who marched into history and endured beatings by Alabama state troopers at the start of their landmark voting rights trek.
On March 7, 1965, a group of about 600 marchers led by John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Rev. Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) set out from Selma, Alabama with plans to march all the way to Montgomery to demand voting rights. They reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge only to be attacked by state and local police who used tear gas, billy clubs and bullwhips to turn back the peaceful marchers. The attack took place in the presence of the news media, and subsequently televised images of the attack were circulated around the globe, rousing a great deal of support for the Civil Rights Movement.
Major John Cloud and Sheriff Jim Clark were behind the strategy to use excessive force against the marchers. In response to this attack, many sympathetic groups and individuals from around the country came to Selma to support the voting rights campaign, including Martin Luther King Jr. of SCLC and Henry Hampton who worked as an editor at the Unitarian Universalist Association. Major Cloud’s behavior and that of the subordinate state troopers, all led President Lyndon B. Johnson to finally take action. Within days of Cloud’s orders to gas and attack the peaceful protestors, Johnson decided to proceed with the voting rights proposal by quickly submitting it to Congress. Cloud’s excessive actions were seen across the nation on news broadcasts and made people aware of the resistance blacks faced. The Federal government, which had been stagnant and seemingly unresponsive, finally took action by passing the Voting Rights Act.
Hampton participated in a march the following Tuesday and was inspired to make a film, which eventually became Eyes on the Prize. He spoke about this moment in a later interview:
“…I was in Selma and…literally it was the only time in my life that I’ve been prophetic. It was a moment when we were standing there on the bridge, the Pettus Bridge, in Selma. There were cameras buzzing overhead, there were the president and federal government in all its power there. We had terrific villains. There was a man named Al Lingo, who was the head of the Alabama State Police, that most don’t remember. They remember George Wallace, but together they were a formidable opposition who were literally killing people, and I looked around and said to myself…‘This would make a terrific movie.’”
Many other people who were involved in this event were interviewed by Blackside, including Sheyann Webb, Rachel Nelson West, Amelia Boynton Robinson, John Lewis, Mayor Joseph Smitherman, Sheriff James Clark, George Wallace, and many others. These interviews and many others can be read at the Eyes on the Prize Interview page.