Alex Shimkin
(1944 — 1972)

As remembered by Michael Walter
October 9, 2012

I knew him (although just barely) at Indiana University Bloomington during the fall semester of 1968. We were in a political science seminar together. Only in the last few years did I learn about his experience in the movement. Most of what follows is from an oral history interview he gave in June 1965 to KZSU, Stanford University's student radio station, and from documents accessed through online sources, including the University of Georgia Civil Rights Digital Library, the Alabama Department of Archives and History Digital Collections and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Alex told KZSU that the murders of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner in Mississippi in 1964 made an impact on him. A history major at the University of Michigan, he left there in January 1965 during his junior year. He did research for the Northern Student Movement in New York, then worked in Detroit with an NSM affiliate called the Adult Community Movement for Equality (ACME). In March, he went to Alabama and was in what he called "the great U-turn" (Turnaround Tuesday) led by Dr. King. After a few days in Selma, he went to Montgomery, where he picketed the state capitol. Arrested twice, he was in jail when Dr. King's third march reached Montgomery.

In June, Alex went to Mississippi to work with the Freedom Democratic Party "with a view to developing a similar political form" in Detroit. He was one of 140 demonstrators arrested October 2 in Natchez and was detained for three days at Parchman, where he and others were kept naked in unheated cells with no bedding. He also wrote an eight-page Natchez Political Handbook describing the local power structure and the right to demonstrate.

Together with his father, anthropologist Demitri B. Shimkin, he organized the "Mississippi Pilot Project" through which 18 African American students from Holmes County were selected to attend the University of Illinois. All but three of the students finished their degrees. Jody Bateman, who knew Alex in Quitman County where they were full-time MFDP staffers in 1966, remembered him "for his courage and dedication."

Alex was killed in Vietnam in 1972 while working as a stringer for Newsweek.

Michael Walter
Auburn, IN, USA

© Copyright
(Labor donated)