Activists put their bodies and their lives on the line in the 1960s in pursuit of basic civil rights—the right to choose a seat on an interstate bus, to use a terminal waiting room in Alabama; the right to vote in Southern counties where Black residents had long been barred from the polls. The philosophies of nonviolence that guided civil rights activists required extraordinary personal courage when put into practice.
This exhibit focuses on two watershed events in the South—the Freedom Rides of 1961 and the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. Both initiatives were systematically thwarted, not only by white mobs but by state and local officials and police. Widespread opinion—and the pages of Time Magazine—held that the Riders were “hunting for trouble.” But over the summer of 1961, undaunted waves of Freedom Riders boarded buses and trains and filled the jails of Jackson, Mississippi. Four years later, after March 7 became “Bloody Sunday,” marchers from Selma to Montgomery regrouped, marched again and swelled into the thousands who heard Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his speech on March 25, 1965.
The materials in this exhibit were selected from the papers of John Doar, who prosecuted discrimination and segregation cases for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department in the 1960s.
The photographs and documents here hint at how the Justice Department—as well as the executive branch and the FBI—were watching and reacting to the direct actions of riders and marchers like John Lewis, James Farmer, Diane Nash, Hosea Williams, Ralph Abernathy and King. The world was watching too. Images and accounts of the violent receptions these peaceful protesters received played a part in the results: the September, 1961 Interstate Commerce Commission order to desegregate travel facilities and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
This exhibit contains photographs of racist violence and people injured by racist violence, as well as documentation of racist opinions and actions.