January 23, 2014
The U-M Library has digitized the complete set of Selma Inter-religious Project Newsletters and made them available to the public via the HathiTrust Digital Library.
The newsletters document the civil rights struggle in Alabama from 1965-74, and can be accessed at catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/002650714.
Julie Herrada, curator of the U-M Library’s Joseph A. Labadie Collection of radical history, says that the newsletter is of interest to anyone researching primary sources of on-the-ground activism of the civil rights era.
Only five libraries in the U.S. own the full series. The library had the wherewithal to digitize the collection, but to do so and make it available to the public required the permission of the copyright holder.
Herrada was able to contact the publisher — the Rev. Francis X. Walter, 81 and now living in Tennessee. He assigned a Creative Commons license to make the newsletters available.
“It’s extremely difficult to track down activists from 50 years ago who own the rights to these obscure publications. Both Reverend Walter and the people he wrote about were so courageous,” she says. “We are thrilled to be able to make their stories accessible to everyone.”
Born in Mobile, Walter was an Episcopal minister and a member of the Selma Inter-religious Project, a support organization for civil rights activists working in small towns in the rural Black Belt across central and southern Alabama, southern Mississippi, and the Florida panhandle. Most of its board members were African-American Baptist preachers.
Walter bore the consequences of his activism. The bishops under whom he ministered said his work was “a direct insult to the ministry of all those who are working under proper authorization from their churches.” The Episcopal Church assigned him to a mental hospital, and denied him the right to perform marriages, burials, or give blessings as an emissary of the church.
Walter started the Selma Inter-religious Project Newsletter in December 1965 in the wake of the murder of the Rev. Jonathan Daniels, a white Episcopal seminarian killed while defending a black teenage girl from a shotgun-wielding “special deputy” who was later acquitted of manslaughter.
Walter hoped to encourage more whites to become involved in the struggle for civil rights. Alongside reports on civil rights abuses and events in Selma were movie reviews, profiles of political candidates, and occasional updates on Walter’s family life.
The newsletter lived up to Walter’s promise in the first issue — five single-sided typewritten pages that began with, “I am composing this newsletter for project members, associates, friendly organizations, and long suffering friends. It will be a hodge-podge of information.”
One of those friendly organizations was the U-M Library’s Labadie Collection, a subscriber from the first issue to the last.
Walter, who no longer possesses the full set of his publication, now can access his legacy online.