Interview with Cleveland Sellers

Lorraine Hotel, the meeting, and the issues involved.


After we marched the first day, ah, we all came back to Memphis and we met at the Lorraine Motel with the other leaders from the Civil Rights Movement, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young. And we had a meeting to determine what we would do, to knock out a strategy. In that meeting, ah, SNCC took the position that if there was going to be a march in Mississippi, it should be a march that's indigenous, meaning that Mississippians should be involved and we should not call out the liberal armies from the, the North to come in and, and assist with that march.**. The other idea, notion was, was that because we were dealing with fear that we could include the Deacons for Defense, a group out of, of Southern Louisiana. Ah, the other idea was that we would register people along the way and get the involvement of the entire community in Mississippi in the second congressional district and make it a march that would impact on their lives, not only in terms of, uh, of, uh, voter registration but certainly in the development of leadership and leadership styles and abilities. Ah, what happened though was that, ah, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young were opposed to the idea. They did not want the Deacons involved. They were opposed to not making a national call and they were certainly opposed to the idea of just having local people involved. Because they said if you just had local people involved you could not raise the, the revenue and the resources to support the march going through Mississippi. We, ah, we stuck by our whole position. Ah, what we were able to do was, we were able to, to talk with, ah, Floyd McKissick who agreed in principle with us and then the deciding vote fell to Martin Luther King. At that point Martin King also was interested, interested in seeing more involvement on the part of, of local people in this effort, to talk about a March Against Fear. Fear of whom? Fear against what? Ah, so Martin sided with us. And at that point Floyd, I'm sorry, Whitney Young and Roy Wilkins kind of stomped out of the, out of the room and they said, "It would not be successful and that we were taking advantage of the Civil Rights Movement," the whole litany of, of accusations, ah, that had been kind of swirling around for some time. And they went on back to New York. And the next we, ah, began to organize, ah, the people in Mississippi who we had worked with during the prior two years and began to get in place, ah, those organizers and resources and began to move the march down the, down the highway. The focal point then becomes the point of voter registration. And we just felt that it was a golden opportunity to register as many people in that area as we possibly could register in that area. And I think to, to the extent that we kept that focus, we were successful. The other thing was was that we wanted to, to talk about a kind of Black self-determination, Black self--self-assurance, Black pride. Those were the, the items that, that were beginning to swirl around not only in Mississippi but across the country. Black people were beginning to articulate the need for, for those kinds of ideals and we felt like it was an opportune time for us to bring those ideals forward and make them legitimate for all of Black America.