North Central College - Naperville, IL

150 Moments: Bus trip to Selma, Ala., in support of civil rights

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Civil rights march at Edmund Pettus Bridge, 1965
Civil rights march at Edmund Pettus Bridge, 1965

On March 7, 1965, nonviolent civil rights activists participated in a march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., to support voters’ registration rights.

As participants crossed the arched Edmund Pettus Bridge at the edge of Selma, they encountered a squadron of hostile Alabama state troopers who attacked the marchers with tear gas, nightsticks and bullwhips. The day has since been known as Bloody Sunday.

Television coverage broadcast images of violence into the living rooms of many U.S. households and provoked many to take action in ways they had not previously considered.

James Farmer, founder of the Congress on Racial Equality, was invited by Rev. George St. Angelo ’43, campus chaplain, to speak at North Central on March 18 in a chapel-convocation series to discuss civil rights and Bloody Sunday.

During his speech, he told students that to be a spectator was no longer an option. “One can’t be neutral today … if you are a bystander, you are not innocent … the greatest crime of all is the crime of silence.”

In response to this message, a group of 120 North Central students, chaperones and faculty boarded three buses to Selma to participate in a march on Sunday, March 21. After 20 hours on the road, the group arrived Sunday morning in time to hear Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. give a sermon. The march began at 1 p.m. and proceeded over the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Although members of the group were not allowed to bring cameras, extensive coverage of the event was written in the March 26, 1965, issue of The North Central Chronicle.

Every person who attended the march was affected. One adult chaperone, Kitty Agne ’60 Dutenhaver, experienced the emotions of hearing King address the marchers and the feeling of stepping across the Pettus Bridge.

“The biggest and best experience as I look back is the true feeling of freedom—freedom from prejudice, freedom to love,” wrote former Chronicle editor Dick Mills ’67. “It was the first time for me and many others to be in a group of at least as many Negroes as whites; but more than that, it was the first time we really had a feeling of complete brotherhood.”

Erling Peterson, a faculty member who joined the trip, wrote, “I cannot wait until it happens, here, or anywhere near here. If the rights of any man, anywhere in this land, can be taken from him, the rights of every man are in danger.”