Clergy joined the famous Selma to Montgomery march in 1965, a key moment in the history of the civil rights movement in the U.S. The march featured Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta (centre), as well as movement co-founder Ralph Abernathy and his children, who joined hands with the unidentified clergyman. Wikimedia Commons

The Register Archive: Canadian clergy march for civil rights

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  • February 8, 2018
To mark The Register’s 125th year, we are re-publishing some interesting stories from our archive. As we celebrate Black History Month, here’s an article from March 20, 1965, reporting on a march in Ottawa that drew thousands in support of the civil rights movement in the United States. The event was held shortly after the historic Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama on March 7 that resulted in state troopers attacking demonstrators on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

OTTAWA – Repercussions from the night-stick blows and tear gas which met 1,500 marchers in Selma, Alabama, reached as far as Ottawa last week.

With essays hanging fire and examinations looming, about 3,000 students left their universities in London, Toronto, Kingston, Montreal and Ottawa to march silently past the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa in solidarity with the assailed marchers of Selma, in their abortive one-mile march for Negro voter registration rights.

The Ottawa march, with a group of about 25 clergymen included, was described as “restrained” and even “reverent.” It culminated in a rally on Parliament Hill in sight of the U.S. Embassy. All clergymen in the university centres which participated were invited by the sponsoring body — the Students Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee — to march and invite their parishioners to march.

In Toronto, the witness of many Church services was added to the demonstration which had been going on for five days before the U.S. Consulate. Fr. Gregory Baum, OSA, celebrated Mass for the demonstrators preparing to leave for Ottawa in memory of the late Rev. James Reeb, a victim of Selma’a violence, and James L. Jackson, a Negro civil rights worker killed last month in Selma.

Many in Selma, he said, were calling this the “high water mark” of the non-violent civil rights movements and of religious involvement in interracial justice efforts.

“With only a few exceptions,” Fr. Geno Baroni of Washington, D.C., said, “this is the first time that Catholic clergy could feel that they had the backing of their fellow clergy and their bishops.”

A statement of Prime Minister Lester Pearson was read at the Ottawa march.

He said: “Along with all Canadians and Americans of good will I deplore and condemn violence and brutality and I have been shocked — as mlllions on this continent have been shocked — by the reports of violence and brutality in Alabama.

“I understand and appreciate the concern being shown by Canadians through peaceful demonstrations at the violence used against those who are merely insisting that their rights be respected.”

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