William Douthard was a CORE and SCLC activist in Alabama 1961-1964.]
The Summer of 1963 was very hot in the South, especially Gadsden, a northern Alabama city of 75,000 of which 28-30,000 are Negroes. It was there that local and state law enforcement officers waged their most vicious and brutal assault upon negroes protesting the inaccessibility of public facilities, voting rights and public accommodations in their city.
It was there the "cattle prod," a battery powered instrument used in most stockyards, capable of rendering a shock from 18-24 volts, was introduced as a weapon against civil rights demonstrators. It was there the theory of brutally beating Negroes in large numbers as a means of creating a blanket of fear in the community was initiated in the grandest of Southern style.
It was there that two CORE. field secretaries and three field representatives (myself and one of the latter) along with staff personnel of SNCC and SCLC learned the viciousness directed at Negroes seeking their rights.
I was relegated the task of directing the demonstrations which attempted to illustrate basic and constitutional rights denied Negroes in that city. From June 11-August 5, we demonstrated almost daily in an effort to bring the town to recognize the justice in our demands and the injustice of their denials. And in those weeks, I saw men, women, and children senselessly beaten without provocation, and then jailed for daring to ask for what was already theirs.
Vividly I remember the night of June 19, when over 500 Negroes, men, women, and children, assembled on the grounds of the County Courthouse and jail, to hold a vigil of prayer in protest of the arrest of some 600 students and adults the previous day. While watching from my top floor cell, I saw over 300 law officers of the city, county and state surround the protesters and begin their systematic beating of all. As the Negroes broke and ran they were chased on foot and in cars, overtaken and beaten again.
Leaving jail on bond, I resumed my job as director of demonstrations. By this time the pattern of resistance had formed and we were able to anticipate actions by the city and state authorities. What we didn't expect was the continuous beatings.
After sending out some 200 pickets, I left our workshop hall and started to walk two blocks to our office. Lined along 6th Street were scores of Highway Patrol (State Troopers) cars with two to four men. Not more than 3 feet in front of me, one driver, S. Trooper Brown, got out of his car and said, "Get in the car, boy." He then walked across the street and picked up CORE. Field Secretary Marvin Robinson, and placed him in the back seat with me.
Ironically, Marvin was walking to the Federal Building to protest to the FBI a merciless beating inflicted upon me the day before by State troopers while a crowd of about 200 whites watched. After placing us in the car, Brown, while the other trooper in the car watched us, called Col. Al Lingo, Director of Alabama State Highway Patrol, and said:
"I've got Robinson and Meatball here, what do I do with them?" "Bring them in," said Lingo, to which Brown replied, "On what charges?" "Disturbing the peace or anything," said Col. Lingo. We were then taken to the back of the Etowah County Courthouse, where awaiting us stood Col. Lingo and his driver, Maj. Allen.
From our first encounter, Col. Lingo set the pace for our trip from the basement to the fourth floor via elevator. Approaching the steps to the basement of the courthouse, I was prodded by Brown. As we walked inside I mistakenly walked by the door that Lingo apparently intended for us to go through. Lingo then reached out, turned me around and slapped me through the door.
Marvin then made his mistake, by walking up the stair instead of down the corridor toward the elevator as I did. He paid for his mistake. Allen ordered Marvin down, and then began punching him in the stomach. After Allen had punched Marvin about four times, Brown began prodding him toward the elevator.
Marvin and I were then herded into the alcove opposite the elevator. Brown then began to consistently alternate in prodding Marvin and me. While leaning against the wall under pressure of the prodding, Marvin's leg gave in and he slipped to the floor. Immediately they pounced on himAllen punching and kicking while Brown held the prodder to Marvin's chest. When Marvin started yelling in pain, Allen ordered a halt until we go in the elevator so as to minimize the chances of being heard. After entering the elevator, we were constantly punched and prodded until we reached the fourth floor.
This was Gadsden, July, 1963.
Copyright © William Douthard, 1965
(Editor's note: Since coming to New York, the young author of this first person account of Alabama "law enforcement" has joined the Fourth A.D. North Liberal Club and is planning a career in the law.)
[The Liberal News (Official Publication of the Liberal Party of New York State), Vol. VI, No. 6, February-March 1965. Editor's note is in the original.]
Copied with permission from the website of Benjamin Greenberg.
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Copyright to this web page, as a web page, belongs to this web site. Copyright to the information and stories contained in the interview belongs to William Douthard.
Last Modified: June 12, 2005.