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March 24, 1965: “The Night the ‘Stars’ Came Out in Alabama”

Fifty-three years ago on this day, thousands of marchers, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on a multi-day demonstration from Selma, gathered at City of St. Jude, a Catholic social services complex in Montgomery, Alabama, to rest for the night. It was raining. The field was soaked. And, the musicians, led by Harry Belafonte, set out to inspire the people to reach their destination: the right to vote.

Selma to Montgomery: Stars for Freedom Rally Served as Interlude, Inspiration for the Marchers

On March 24, 1965, Leonard Bernstein joined the Stars for Freedom Rally, a make-shift concert organized by Harry Belafonte, that brought together spectacular artists, entertainers, and speakers to inspire some 25,000 marchers to continue their historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Performers included Bernstein, Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr., Odetta, Mahalia Jackson, Tony Bennett, Joan Baez, Nina Simone, Peter, Paul and Mary, and more.

Embed from Getty Images

“They Camped Here”

National Park Service brochure describes the “Night the ‘Stars’ Came Out in Alabama” in detail, providing a quasi review:

… the campsite, situated on a rain-soaked playing field, held a flatbed trailer that served as a stage and a host of famous participants that provided the scene for an inspirational performance enjoyed by thousands on the dampened grounds.

This National Park Service brochure describes the "Stars for Freedom Rally," led by Harry Belafonte.
A National Park Service brochure describes the “Stars for Freedom Rally,” led by Harry Belafonte.
A placard marks the campsite. (The Selma to Montgomery March: "They camped here") | Courtesy of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.
A placard marks the campsite. (The Selma to Montgomery March: “They camped here”) | Courtesy of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.

Marching On

The next day, the marchers continued to the Alabama state capitol, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gave a speech further describing what the march was for: voting rights and exposing the root cause of racial segregation in low-wage labor.

“Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then. And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land.”

Read Dr. King’s full speech on the Stanford University website.

Weary Feet, Rested Souls

Dr. King began:

“Last Sunday, more than eight thousand of us started on a mighty walk from Selma, Alabama. … Our bodies are tired and our feet are somewhat sore.

But today as I stand before you and think back over that great march, I can say, as Sister Pollard said—a seventy-year-old Negro woman who lived in this community during the bus boycott—and one day, she was asked while walking if she didn’t want to ride. And when she answered, ‘No,’ the person said, ‘Well, aren’t you tired?’ And with her ungrammatical profundity, she said,

‘My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.’

… And in a real sense this afternoon, we can say that our feet are tired, but our souls are rested.”

That is what the musicians and entertainers, such as Bernstein, helped provide: a restoration and resolve for the weary bodies, but determined souls, of the marchers.



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