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In Peace and Freedom

In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma

Bernard LaFayette
Kathryn Lee Johnson
Foreword by John Robert Lewis
Afterword by Raymond Arsenault
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  • Book Info
    In Peace and Freedom
    Book Description:

    Bernard LaFayette Jr. (b. 1940) was a cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a leader in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins, a Freedom Rider, an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the national coordinator of the Poor People's Campaign. At the young age of twenty-two, he assumed the directorship of the Alabama Voter Registration Project in Selma -- a city that had previously been removed from the organization's list due to the dangers of operating there.

    In this electrifying memoir, written with Kathryn Lee Johnson, LaFayette shares the inspiring story of his years in Selma. When he arrived in 1963, Selma was a small, quiet, rural town. By 1965, it had made its mark in history and was nationally recognized as a battleground in the fight for racial equality and the site of one of the most important victories for social change in our nation.

    LaFayette was one of the primary organizers of the 1965 Selma voting rights movement and the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, and he relates his experiences of these historic initiatives in close detail. Today, as the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is still questioned, citizens, students, and scholars alike will want to look to this book as a guide. Important, compelling, and powerful, In Peace and Freedom presents a necessary perspective on the civil rights movement in the 1960s from one of its greatest leaders.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4435-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    John Robert Lewis

    In this book, Bernard LaFayette Jr. has written a powerful history of struggle, commitment, and hope. No one, but no one, who lived through the creation and development of the movement for voting rights in Selma is better prepared to tell this story than Bernard LaFayette himself. He was trained in nonviolence by a master, the Reverend Jim Lawson, and stood shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s main organizer in Selma. This book fills in many blanks left by other discussions and research on the struggle for the right to...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. Prologue: The Road into Selma, Fall 1962
    (pp. 1-2)

    Traveling to Selma to visit the town where I would spend the next couple of years, I drove west on Highway 80, winding my way through the peaceful hills of Lowndes County, Alabama. The noon sun of this November day shone across vast stretches of farmland, dotted with giant rolls of hay, freshly harvested. I saw open pastures scattered with farmhouses, noticing how each farm was divided by rows of trees, and how the browning kudzu covered dying branches. Traveling the gently rolling hills and rounding the curves was like lifting the veils off a new picture along this ever-changing...

  7. 1 Preparing for Selma
    (pp. 3-24)

    Selma, Alabama. What was it about this little southern town that sparked the question from so many people, “Why go to Selma? You can’t bring about any change there.” I wondered about this sentiment as I made plans to spend the next couple of years there as director of the Alabama Voter Registration Campaign for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, commonly referred to as “snick”). The Southern Regional Council’s (SRC) “Voter Education Project,” headed by Randolph Blackwell, was a recipient of grants from the Field Foundation and Taconic Foundation. The foundation sponsored projects aimed at increasing the number of...

  8. 2 Shackles of Fear, Handcuffs of Hopelessness
    (pp. 25-44)

    It was a cold January morning in 1963 when I first drove into Selma to start the project, and in less than fifteen minutes a police car was following my automobile, and I was driving only in the black community. I concluded there had to be someone in the neighborhood who tipped off the police that a stranger was in town. It was disheartening to realize that blacks were turning against each other. One of the fears expressed more than once was that “these Freedom Riders will come down here and get your children thrown in jail, with no money...

  9. 3 Preparing to Register to Vote
    (pp. 45-68)

    The voter registration office at the Dallas County Courthouse was open only two days a month, the first and third Thursdays, so this limited the opportunities to attempt to register. When I heard about this ridiculous twice-a-month schedule, I thought, “Well, we’re going to change that!” Some weeks people gathered at Brown Chapel and marched to the voter registration office together. They would line up waiting to register, calling attention to the issue of voter registration, which was part of the direct action strategy. The registrars were known to open the office late and move through the process so slowly...

  10. 4 Central Alabama Heats Up
    (pp. 69-90)

    Benny Tucker, a student at Selma University, became actively involved in the Selma campaign. I often let him use my car, fondly called the “movement car.” He was out running office errands one day and had a wreck. He ran smack into the back of a car at a traffic light, unquestionably his fault. The other driver turned out to be a white schoolteacher who lived in the county. Her husband was a farmer. The very fact that my car had rear-ended this woman could be fuel for a fire that no amount of water could extinguish. I was on...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. 5 Mountains and Valleys
    (pp. 91-118)

    During this period in our history of the struggle, overlapping with my time in Selma, there were other movements in effect throughout the country. There was a hopeful atmosphere, a cloud of despair had been pierced, and movement was in the air. Popular artists wrote or performed songs that embraced the themes of the movement, making “protest” songs part of the widespread culture. Some of these were Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” the Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn,” Phil Ochs’s “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” and “The Ballad of Medgar Evers,” the Buffalo...

  13. 6 The March from Selma to Montgomery
    (pp. 119-142)

    The Voter Registration Campaign in Selma started about the same time as the movement in Marion, Perry County, Alabama. Albert Turner, the SCLC leader, and Dorothy Cotton and James Orange, SCLC staff, were working in Perry County and central Alabama. James was arrested for his work on voting rights, but he was charged specifically with contributing to the delinquency of a minor because he had involved students. He had grown up surrounded by civil rights activists and had learned early how to be a leader. With his impressive stature of six feet three inches, and weight of more than three...

  14. 7 Reflections on the Alabama Voter Registration Campaign
    (pp. 143-146)

    The most significant outcome of the Alabama Voter Registration Campaign was the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, which banned racial discrimination and secured equal voting rights for black citizens. This resulted in a dramatic increase in voter registration for African Americans. The Voting Rights Act is considered by many people to be the single most important legislation for civil rights. It restored the right to vote guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, which stated that no individual should be denied the right...

  15. Epilogue: The Road Out of Selma, March 1965
    (pp. 147-148)

    As I drove out of Selma in 1965, along Highway 80, I pondered what an important stretch of road this was that had led not only to Montgomery but to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I recalled the thousands of hopeful marchers moving along this pavement step by step toward justice. I reminisced about that fall day when I first drove to Selma along this same route and the accident I had come upon. Remembering the elderly black man who was so frightened talking to the white police officers about the crash, I could only hope...

  16. Afterword
    (pp. 149-152)
    Raymond Arsenault and John Hope Franklin

    Bernard LaFayette Jr.’s riveting account of his experiences in Selma reminds us that the realization of America’s democratic ideals has rarely involved an easy or uncontested march to victory. During the 1960s, civil rights activists in the Deep South faced powerful adversaries determined to defend the traditions and shibboleths of racial privilege and prejudice by any and all means. Part of the problem, as this book reveals in fascinating detail, resided in personal and political chicanery, but the movement for democratization and racial justice also had to deal with institutional inertia and a pervasive popular complacency. Before meaningful change could...

  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 153-156)
  18. Appendix A: Example of a Literacy Test for Registering to Vote
    (pp. 157-158)
  19. Appendix B: Excerpt from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Special Message to the Congress: “The American Promise”
    (pp. 159-164)
  20. Appendix C: Dr. King’s Six Principles of Nonviolence Related to Selma
    (pp. 165-168)
  21. Appendix D: Life Dates of Some Persons Referenced in the Book
    (pp. 169-170)
  22. Chronology
    (pp. 171-176)
  23. Notes
    (pp. 177-180)
  24. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-186)
  25. Index
    (pp. 187-196)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-198)