Both the building and the members of Brown Chapel AME Church played pivotal
roles in the Selma, Alabama, marches that helped lead to the passage of
the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The starting point for the Selma-to-Montgomery
marches, Brown Chapel also hosted the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference (SCLC) for the first three months of 1965. Another nearby local
church, First Baptist, acted as the headquarters
for the organizers of the Selma Campaign--the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee (SNCC). Brown Chapel AME Church, with its imposing twin towers
and Romanesque Revival styling, was built in 1908 by a black builder--of
whom little is known -- Mr. A.J. Farley. On Sunday morning (known as Bloody
Sunday) March 7, 1965, despite a ban on protest marches by Governor George
Wallace, about 600 black protestors gathered outside Brown Chapel to march
from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery. Leading the march were
the SCLC's Hosea Williams and SNCC's John Lewis. At the Edmund Pettus
Bridge, six blocks from Brown Chapel, mounted troopers confronted the
marchers and ordered them to disperse. The marchers stood their ground
and the troopers advanced, billy clubs raised. Lewis fell, his skull fractured.
Others fell, screaming, as white onlookers cheered. Then Sheriff Jim Clark's
deputized posse charged the marchers, firing tear gas and swinging bullwhips
and rubber tubing wrapped in barbed wire. That night, ABC interrupted
its showing of the movie Judgement at Nuremberg to air footage
of "Bloody Sunday." By morning, news of the event had spread to nearly
every American household, and thousands of march supporters began to flock
to Selma. On March 9, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a "symbolic" march
to the bridge, and on March 21, after Governor Wallace's ban was overruled
by Federal Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., King led
the five-day march to the capital. Less than five
months later President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.
Brown Chapel AME Church
Photograph courtesy of the Alabama Historical Commission
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Photograph courtesy of Kentucky Department of Public Information Collection
Brown Chapel AME Church, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 410, Martin Luther King, Jr., Street.
Brown Chapel AME Church is one of the subjects of an online lesson plan, The Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March: Shaking the Conscience of the Nation, produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on places listed in the National Register of Historic Places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.
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