Civil Rights Pioneer Reflects on Fight for Voting Equality
produced by Rod Thomas
interview by David Kithkart
The 700 Club
CBN.com- When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, into law it was a day that changed America.
Reverend Jesse Douglas, Sr, a co-laborer and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was one of many civil rights leaders fighting for African Americans’ right to vote. “It really was our job to defend their rights and to stand up for them to be counted.”
Douglas helped spearhead the movement to register voters in Alabama, where they faced very strong resistance. “We were working together in order to secure our rights. But it was not easy. It was not easy.”
David Kithcart, 700 Club Special Correspondent: “Tell me about that, about it not being easy.”
Reverend Jesse Douglas, Sr: “The white people who resented it would appear at places and try to exert their cruelties, you know; spitting on people, slapping them (and) pushing them down.”
Despite the brutality Douglas, like Dr. King, stressed a non-violent means to demonstrate their opposition to the status quo.
Kithcart: “The approach that you talk about with non-violence and from a Christian perspective; how did you get people convinced to go that route when it goes against human nature?”
Reverend Douglas: “The persons who participated had to sign papers promising that they would not violate our nonviolent procedure of demonstration. Dr. King got us to realize that hate only provokes hate, and violence only provokes violence and that love is the greatest force on earth.”
That philosophy would be tested on March 7th, 1965. Six hundred peaceful demonstrators gathered in Selma, Alabama, to March 50 miles to Montgomery, the state capital. But on the far side of the Edwin Pettus Bridge just outside of Selma, state troopers blocked the marchers, and attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas. The national media covered the travesty that became known as Bloody Sunday.
Reverend Douglas: “The eyes of the nation had been drawn to that situation as a result of the brutality exerted on the people of Selma.”
Then on March 25th, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with Reverend Douglas at his side, led over 25,000 protestors to Montgomery. This time by order of the President, they marched under the protection of the federal government. Five months later, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, giving African Americans the right to vote without facing discrimination at the state and local levels. It was a major step towards racial equality, but the fight was far from over.”
Kithcart: “It took time and some people died.”
Reverend Douglas: “Oh yes, we anticipated that. But they were doing it for the benefit of their children and their children's children. And they made up in their mind that they were willing to sacrifice their lives.”
One of those sacrifices devastated Douglas and their cause. On April 4th 1968, Dr. King was shot and killed at a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Reverend Douglas: “The news struck me like somebody had taken a dagger and pierced me in the heart. I couldn't react. I guess it was one of the greatest hurts that I’ve ever had in my life. I loved the man.”
Kithcart: “Did it seem like what was being fought for went with him?”
Reverend Douglas: “It did halt the movement for a while, because everybody was in mourning. The nation was in mourning.”
Over the years, Douglas has continued fighting for the rights of African Americans. He’s also been a devoted family man and pastor. Now 85, he fondly remembers the time he spent with Dr. King as they envisioned an America where everyone is treated equally.
Reverend Douglas: “Before he preached, before he spoke, I would sing his favorite song which was, I told Jesus it Would be All Right if He Changed my Name."
Kithcart: “What does that mean?”
Reverend Douglas: “When your name is changed, you're changed from a sinner to a saint. And you become committed to Christ and His mission. You're a changed person. You've been born again.”
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