Last updated: January 2, 2024
Tabernacle Baptist Church in Selma, Alabama is the site of the first mass meeting of the Voting Rights Movement. On May 14, 1963, upon the death of veteran civil rights stalwart Sam Boynton, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) AL Voter Registration Campaign Chairman Bernard Lafayette and widow Amelia Boynton sought to hold a memorial service and mass meeting to galvanize the Black community in segregated Selma, Alabama to vote. Mr. and Mrs. Boynton had worked with them since the 1930s to prepare them academically and emotionally to register to vote.
Selma had an emerging colored middle class that consisted primarily of medical doctors, teachers, college professors, pharmacists, business people, and dentists. Many of them were Tabernacle members. Tabernacle's pastor, Rev. Louis Lloyd Anderson, who came to Selma from Chicago in 1954 had not always followed Jim Crow laws. So when Rev, Lafayette and Mrs. Boynton sent out an invitation to Selma's colored churches to host the memorial service for Mr. Boynton, Rev. Anderson daringly accepted on behalf of Tabernacle. The deacons who were primarily professors and descendants of the persons who had built the magnificent Classical Revival edifice in 1922, objected as they did not want their church bombed like those in Birmingham, Alabama. Rev. Anderson’s response was, “If you will not permit it to be held on the inside, we will hold it on the sidewalk and I will tell everyone why.”
The first mass meeting was held with 300 persons in attendance. These included Sheriff Jim Clark and many recently deputized gun-carrying white males.; many were only 18 years old. They lined the walls of the church as mass meeting attendees sang, prayed and memorialized Mr. Boynton. Mr. James Foreman, SNCC Chairman was the main speaker. The High Cost of Freedom was his title of his address.
Tabernacle members and their friends had used the Tabernacle basement for secret underground voter registration sessions since the 1930s. Tabernacle Member Mrs. Marie Foster was one of the trainers. She and Rev. John D. Hunter, former President of the Selma Chapter of the NAACP before it was banned, worked secretly for voting rights despite an injunction that prohibited "gatherings of no more than 3 Negroes."
They joined with six other persons who defied the court order by inviting Dr. Martin Luther King to Selma in 1965 to help with voter registration. Mrs. Amelia Boynton, Mr. Ulysses Blackman, Mr. Ernest Doyle, Mrs. Marie Foster, Mr. William Gildersleeve, Rev. John D. Hunter, Rev. F. D. Reese, and Rev. Henry Shannon became known as the “Courageous Eight.” Mrs. Foster’s brother, Dr. Sullivan Jackson, DDS, was a Tabernacle Trustee. The Sullivan Jackson home was the headquarters for Dr. King and staff in segregated Selma where colored people could not use public accommodations such as lodging, rest rooms, water fountains, restaurants, etc.
Tabernacle Baptist Church is open for guided tours for the general and historic public.
The Tabernacle Baptist Church is Selma, Alabama became part of the African American Civil Rights Network in February 2021.
The African American Civil Rights Network recognizes the civil rights movement in the United States and the sacrifices made by those who fought against discrimination and segregation. Created by the African American Civil Rights Act of 2017, and coordinated by the National Park Service, the Network tells the stories of the people, places, and events of the U.S. civil rights movement through a collection of public and private elements.