Interview with Cleveland Sellers

The Lorraine Motel, raising the issues that affected the march, can you talk about that?


When we finished the march on the first day, we returned to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, and at that point we met up with Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young, representing the NAACP and the Urban League. We had some concerns, that is SNCC had some concerns about how the march would, would unfold. We were going back to develop a strategy for the continuation of the march. When we went back, we raised several issues. One was the inclusion of the Deacons for Defense, we wanted them to be involved in the march. Two was we did not want a national call to be made. We wanted to keep the march indigenous to Mississippi, indigenous to the South, primarily. Three was that we wanted people, local people in Mississippi, to have a role in the march. We wanted them to provide the resources. We wanted them to have an opportunity to set up rallies and to be involved. The question of March Against Fear impacted directly on people in Mississippi, and we felt like in order to make that statement, they had to be involved. They had to make the step out and say that I am not frightened by vigilantes and Ku Klux Klans and people who are going to try to oppress me and take advantage of me. What happens then is that those, those more moderate civil rights leaders, Martin, I mean, uh, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young, were reluctant about the inclusion of the Deacons for Defense, they wanted to have a national call, and they wanted to bring in people so that they could generate the resources external to Mississippi to carry off the march. And we discussed that issue, and we were able to lobby Floyd McKissick from CORE to our position, and then it became a vote and the, the final decision would ha--would, would have been made Martin King. Martin King did side with us in the effort to put the march together, and that infuriated Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young, and they just, you know, went through a whole litany of rabble-rousers, and we didn't understand the dynamics of the Civil Rights Movement and all that, and they slammed their briefcases and stomped out of the meeting going back to New York to, to make very derogatory remarks about the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. But what happened was I think we began to weld together, much closer, SCLC, CORE, and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. Those were the three groups that had a primary interest in Mississippi. Now you did have a local NAACP in Mississippi, but nationally, SCLC and CORE and SNCC were the major organi--organizations operating in Mississippi, SNCC being the primary organization organizing in Mississippi. But what happens next is that we, the three groups, began to, pooling our meager resources and, and contact the people for setting up mass meetings and rallies along the highway. And we began to, to get people involved, and the idea of Martin Luther King marching against fear in Mississippi was an idea that time had come in terms of Mississippi, and many people responded from throughout the state. So we were successful in generating the, the, the interest and generating the crowds that we would have generated if we had gone the other way and made the calls for a number of people to come in from the, the North. But we did not want the march to be overtaken by a lot of Whites from outside the community as had happened in some of the other communities. And we thought that it became important, if we were talking about self-determination and pride and, and effort against fear for Black fold to make that statement.


Keep on talking about this whole--