Literature Essays on In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma
In his memoir In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma, written together with Kathryn L. Johnson, Bernard LaFayette offers an inspiring story of his life as an activist in Selma. Born in 1940, LaFayette was quite the young achiever and in his twenties he held respectable positions in organizations geared towards achieving equality for the black man. LaFayette one of the founders of Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a freedom rider, the National Leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, a leader in the Nashville sit-ins, and a prominent member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). LaFayette was a protégé and close associate of the late Martin Luther King and together they worked towards ending racism in the US. At the tender age of 22, LaFayette was appointed director of the Voters rights program-Alabama Voter Registration Campaign. LaFayette assumed directorship in January 1963 and started his work in Selma-a city that had been removed from Alabama Voter Registration Project due to its high hostility towards black people. When Lafayette arrived in Selma, it was a small uneventful rural town but by 1965, the town made headlines as the struggle for voter rights and racial equality intensified. Non violent movements and the struggle for equal rights are the central arguments in this memoir. The book is a memoir and not an autobiography because it focuses on one event of the author’s life-voters’ rights movement in Selma.
LaFayette began bringing people together in Selma as soon as he got there. The city was known to have mean white men and black men who feared them. He started carrying out voter registration campaigns with the people of Selma. However, LaFayette’s central role in fighting for voter’s rights in Selma almost came to a halt when in June 12. 1963 he was attacked by two white men (Zinn 147). LaFayette did not fight back and was saved from being killed at gun point by a neighbor. He viewed his non-violence during the attack as “a form of resistance, with support from a power beyond myself (LaFayete & Kathryn 75).” The murder attempt became a turning point for LAFayette’s course as people sympathized and offered support. The previously intimidated black people of Selma started challenging the system (Flemming 130). The notorious sheriff Jim Clark responded to this by arresting black people who attempted voter registration. A baptist church in Alabama was bombed killing four black girls. Two months later, President John F. Kennedy who was sympathetic to the civil right movements was assassinated on November 22, 1963 while he was in Dallas (Flemming 89). The black citizens lost a powerful supporter (104). “Many of us felt that if the most powerful leaders in the world could not be protected, then the common person, particularly black persons, certainly had no protection at all (LaFayete & Kathryn 104).” The death of Medgar Evers, the fours girls and President John Kennedy strengthened the movement and black people persevered amongst bombings and death threats by Selma’s Sheriff Clark. The pivotal moment of the movement was during the March 7, 1965 non-violent march from Selma to Montgomery. Marchers were attacked by local police using batons and whips. The day is referred to as bloody Sunday as much blood was shed during the march. The event gained national recognition and most nationals became sympathetic to the black people of Selma (Forman 161). Immediately after Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo were both killed. These fueled the nation and eight days after Bloody Sunday and later that year President Johnson signed voting Rights Act allowing African Americans to vote.
LaFayette is placed at the middle of the movement in the memoir In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma. The young activist recounts how he asks to be assigned to Selma. In the memoir, LaFayette also recounts his experience of brutality and how black people used non-violent strategies. “In the Montgomery bus station a ranting mob viciously attacked us. Several of us were severely beaten. However, we defied all expectations. We didn’t run, we didn’t fight back. We got back up when slammed to the ground, and looked our attackers directly in the eyes, fighting violence with nonviolence. In spite of our injuries, with many of us bleeding and battered, we got back on the bus and continued our ride toward Jackson (LaFayete & Kathryn 11).” LaFayette begins as the leader of voter registration campaigns but his contribution in Selma end up gaining national recognition and contributing to the larger civil rights movement.
The narrative recounts LaFayette’s inspiring struggle to fight for the voting rights of black people in Selma. The memoir puts LaFayette at the middle of the fight for voters rights and rightfully so as he was the director of the Alabama Voter registration project. However, the role of other activists such as Hosea Williams of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC was downplayed in the memoir. Apart from that there are no biases of real life events in the book. The memoir plays a great role in helping us understand the brutality that black people in Selma and perhaps the entire US experienced to gain the civil rights that others are now enjoying. The book emphasizes on the non-violence techniques that were used by black activists and how they were met with brutality. Medgar Evers, Rev Reeb, Jim L. Jackson and Viola Liuzzo paid the price of the movement as they all died as a result of the movement. Rev Cox was also another outstanding figure during the movement in Selma and he faced death threats and several arrests even escaping assassination for his involvement in the movement (Forman 157). Martin Luther King was also another prominent figure in the Selma movement leading a second march after the bloody Sunday March. The most important figure in the whole movement is LaFayette for initializing Voters campaigns in Selma when nobody else could.
The book’s main theme is non violence but I believe the author wrote the book to open our eyes to the sacrifices made by compassionate and decent people to fight for equality. Unarmed black men were murdered and let us not forget the four girls who were killed in the Alabama Baptist church bombing. Similar to how events of Bloody Sunday brought awareness to the nation about the struggles of black people in the little town of Selma, this books creates awareness of the injustice black people had to endure during the voter right campaigns. It is therefore safe to say that the target audience for the book is the American Citizen who must be reminded of the struggle the black man had to endure to enjoy basic human rights in his own country.
Prior to reading LaFayette’s memoir, I had no idea how much his involvement or the voter rights campaign in Selma played a big role in the civil rights movements of 1954-1968. Voter rights Act is perhaps the biggest achievement of the civil rights movement thanks to LaFayette and other activists involved in the voter registration campaign in Selma. While I was aware that black men faced brutality during the civil right movement, reading LaFayette’s memoir opened my eyes to a whole new level of brutality and injustice. I am also amazed at the perseverance of the black people. After the Bloody Sunday events, they did not give up. In fact they intensified their marches. Looking at LaFayette, I am challenged that such a young man could achieve so much. At only 25, LaFayette was able to lead a movement that saw the country pass the Voter Right Act.
Fleming, Cynthia G. In the Shadow of Selma: The Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights in the Rural South. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004. Print.
Forman, James. The Making of Black Revolutionaries. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997. Print.
LaFayette, Bernard, and Kathryn L. Johnson. In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma. , 2013. Print.
Zinn, Howard. Sncc: The New Abolitionists. Cambridge: South end Press, 2002. Print.