Eric Rainey
SNCC Field Secretary

(Originally published in Freedomways, 1st Quarter, 1964)

[See Savage Repression in Gadsden AL and I'll Never Forget Alabama Law for more information.]

Demonstrations began in Gadsden on June 10, 1963. There were five hundred people in the streets downtown demonstrating for their freedom. We demonstrated for two weeks and only two persons were arrested: Nandy McNair and myself. We were arrested following a protest at the county court house but were released the next morning. When we were jailed, one of the officers stepped on my face and kicked me about seven or eight times.

After two weeks of demonstrations we learned that the sheriff had sent for the state troopers. On the day the troopers were supposed to have arrived we went downtown and closed the lunch counters again and picketed in front of the theaters. About fifty people were arrested. We walked to the court house to protest the arrests and sat down in the middle of the street. At that time three hundred people were arrested and by the time the state troopers arrived that evening there were six hundred people on the court house lawn praying for the release of their people from the jail.

Women had babies in their arms and there were many young children sitting on the lawn. The state troopers sneaked up on the people and began beating them as they prayed. There was a lady standing with her baby in her arms on the court house steps and the troopers knocked her down and pushed the baby from her hands. Some were knocked down two and three times. There were so many people arrested that the jails were filled. The men were sent to Camp Gadsden, others were sent to the city and county jails. We stayed in jail for fourteen days and were released on bond. When our trial came up the judge postponed the trial indefinitely.

On July 11 about twenty-eight of us demonstrated again and were arrested for "vagrancy." We stayed in jail six days and were released. After being released from jail this time, we set our sights for another demonstration on August 3, 1963 which we called D-Day. We began going into the communities talking to everyone about getting out on this date. The police followed us everywhere we went. We always carried our tooth brushes with us to be prepared in case we were arrested. On D-Day there were close to 2,300 people ready to demonstrate. We went downtown and picketed again.

That evening we had another mass demonstration. About 1,200 people were arrested and in order to make room in the jails, some youths were released as juveniles. There were about six hundred and fifty people still in jail after some were released. This was the largest mass jailing of any civil rights demonstration up to that time, north or south. The beatings by troopers and police continue. There is need for federal intervention by the President and Attorney General.

Copyright © Eric Rainey, 1963

Copyright ©
Copyright to this web page, as a web page, belongs to this web site. Copyright to the this letter belongs to Eric Rainey.

(Labor donated)