Interview with Mayor Joseph Smitherman
QUESTION 34
INTERVIEWER:

LET ME, THROW UH, AND THIS IS PROBABLY GOING TO BE THE FINAL ONE, BUT HERE IT GOES. UH, WHEN ALL OF THIS STARTED TO HAPPEN IN SELMA, THERE WAS A GREAT DEAL OF PRESSURE BEING PUT ON IN WASHINGTON TO TRY TO GET THIS VOTING RIGHTS BILL, DID YOU SENSE HOW BIG THIS THING WAS GETTING, WHEN DID YOU KNOW WHAT WAS HAPPENING HERE?

Mayor Joseph Smitherman:

well, I really didn't know til way after the incident at the foot of the bridge, how big it was. Course we knew certainly when the act passed, or when Lyndon Johnson came on, I remember we were around Brown Chapel, I was in the area and you had all of these people marching around because after that they were in the staging area, we wouldn't let ‘em march 3 or 4 thousand. And uh, we had the radio on and all the blacks had the radio on, and you know, you'd mill around like a roman holiday until they got ready to march and everybody was regiment. I remember at one time I had 400 State troopers, Conservation Officers, and Game and Wildlife, everything, ABC agents under my direction and we ringed around that 16 block area. Nobody could come out of it, unless they were going back and forth. Uh, not in constitute a march. But Lyndon Johnson came on, the late President and said, We shall overcome. And that just like, uh, you'd stuck a dagger in your heart or something like that, I mean, you know, what's this guy doing, and you know you had respect for your country, the South's very patriotic, but it just destroyed everything you'd been allegedly fighting for** and uh, he said, we shall overcome and he called on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. And uh, uh then you'd felt it was hopeless and then it just kept going down hill from the resistance side at that point, and then the, we went through a recovery stage, I guess for 3 or 4 years after that, of pulling people back together because the whites had split and uh, the county and the rural and city people had split, taken different positions and, the blacks were disenchanted.