Two Auburn Professors Want to Identify “Bloody Sunday” Marchers

John Lewis

Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965, (AP Photo/File)

Two Auburn University professors want to use social media to help identify people who took part in “Bloody Sunday” in 1965.

Professors Richard Burt and Keith Hébert have created a Facebook page where people can look at photographs from March 7, 1965, and identify themselves or others.

On that day, John Lewis, Hosea Williams and a group of approximately 600 marchers were confronted by Alabama State Troopers armed with tear gas and metal batons as they began a march for equality toward Montgomery.

“Social media platforms such as Facebook offer public historians invaluable tools to connect with multi-generational audiences across a broad geography,” Hébert said. “We have received critical information from former Bloody Sunday foot soldiers and their loved ones near and far as we build a comprehensive database of those marchers’ names and stories. Our Honors College students are gaining experience communicating with diverse audiences as we all come together to collect and celebrate the heroic sacrifices those foot soldiers made in Selma on March 7, 1965. Those learning opportunities will bode well for their future career endeavors as they help America build a diverse, inclusive and equitable society.”

Selma City Council members were briefed about the project and have pledged their support and resources to aiding the endeavor’s success, according to the university.

“Actually putting names to these faces is a game-changer,” Selma City Council Chairman Billy Young said. “We’re extremely enthusiastic about recording history this way, because for so long, these men and women who did so much never had their names provided. It means a great deal for Auburn and all the students and everyone to come together for this project.

The project also will be promoted with posters at the Selma Dallas County Public Library, and photos from that fateful day will be on display at a November photography festival in Selma thanks to the efforts of Bloody Sunday march participant JoAnn Bland, who identified herself in one of the historical images.

“I think it’s amazing, and I’m glad to be a part of it,” Bland said of the project. “That was the first time I’d seen a picture of me, and I don’t think the ordinary foot soldiers get the recognition for what we did. Our kids know about Dr. King and John Lewis, but they don’t realize ordinary people like me were out there fighting and didn’t give up.

Albert Turner Jr.—chairman of the Perry County Commission whose father, Albert Turner Sr., helped organize the march in 1965—applauded the team’s efforts.

“I think this will be the most accurate depiction of Bloody Sunday that has ever been documented,” said Turner. “It will speak to the core of the people who were there on Bloody Sunday, the march that changed America.”

Selma High School teacher Veronica Pitts has enlisted her AP History class in helping advance the project, particularly working on the social media component and enlisting family members to help identify Bloody Sunday marchers. Pitts was first introduced to the cause of identifying marchers while working for the National Park Service prior to becoming a teacher, so this project is a chance to rekindle a passion project from her past.

The project recently received another boost when it was chosen to receive a nearly $190,000 grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities to support a pair of week-long workshops to include 72 K-12 educators in field studies that focus on the significance of Selma in the early days of the civil rights movement.

— Information from Auburn University

Categories: Montgomery, News, Statewide, West Alabama