Ripon College and Selma, Alabama: 1965

In March 1965, marches and protests held in Alabama marked the political and emotional height of the American civil rights movement. The three attempts to march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital, were in support of Black voter registration.

The first march took place on March 7 and became known as “Bloody Sunday” after civil rights marchers were attacked by police with billy clubs and tear gas. The second, the next week, resulted in marchers turning around after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

By the time of the third march, civil rights supporters on the Ripon College campus became involved after a country-wide call for help by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On Monday, March 16, a special emergency meeting of the Ripon College Student Senate was held to determine if funds should be allocated to allow interested students and faculty to travel to Alabama to take part in the march alongside King.

The funds were approved, but the decision set off a series of protests and demonstrations on campus about using student funds for such a purpose.

Rev. Thompson with students from Tougaloo College

Rev. Thompson with students from Tougaloo College

About a dozen college representatives expressed interest in going, but ultimately only four made the full journey: the Rev. Jerry Thompson, a civil rights activist and then-chaplain of Ripon College; Richard Grimsrud ’65, Gary Yerkey ’66 and Noel Carota ’67.

Excerpts from “College Days” related to civil rights discussions and activities from 1962 to 1965 can be viewed here and here.

A transcript from a special edition of “College Days” highlighting the Student Senate vote and its controversial aftermath can be viewed here.

An interview with the Rev. Thompson, discussing the events surrounding the trip to Alabama and other campus highlights during that time period can be viewed here.

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