The Alabama Project
The “Proposal for Action in Alabama” (later proposal for Montgomery) led to the eventual focus by Dr. Martin Luther King and the SCLC in Selma and the Selma to Montgomery Marches.
By Bruce Hartford, CRMvet.org
Back in September of 1963, when four young girls were killed in the Birmingham bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church, Diane Nash Bevel and her husband James Bevel drew up a “Proposal for Action in Montgomery” — a plan for a massive direct action assault on denial of voting rights.
… we felt that if blacks in Alabama had the right to vote, that they could protect black children. … [And we] promised ourselves and each other, that if it took twenty years, or as long as it took, we weren’t going to stop working on it and trying, until Alabama blacks had the right to vote. So, we drew up that day, an initial strategy-draft for a movement in Alabama designed to get the right to vote. … [My] job was to get on an airplane and have a meeting with Dr. King, and Fred Shuttlesworth, and encourage them to have a meeting with the staff to make a decision on what to do. — Diane Nash 
Their draft plan called for building and training a nonviolent army 20-40,000 strong who would engage in large-scale civil disobedience by blocking roads, airports, and government buildings to demand the removal of Governor Wallace and the immediate registration of every Alabama citizen over the age of 21. When she presents the idea to Dr. King, she tells him,
You can tell people not to fight only if you offer them a way by which justice can be served without violence.
A month later, Diane and James Bevel again raise the plan, later called the “Alabama Project,” at an SCLC board meeting. The general concept of some kind of “March on Montgomery” some time in the future is supported, but no date is set, no specific plans are made, and there is no consensus around the idea of militant direct action and massive civil disobedience. Continue reading at CRMvet.org
At the 50th anniversary commemoration of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Diane Nash would not join the march across the bridge. She objected to the participation of former President George W. Bush because “he stands for violence and war and stolen elections, and, for goodness sake, his administration had people tortured.” She made this statement in a Democracy Now! interview, where she also shared reflections for the movement today.
Her first point of advice for young activists is,
It would be a huge mistake for Americans to leave the future of this country in the hands of elected officials.
Nash’s second piece of advice was about the engaging in protest politics vs. a nonviolent campaign.
In protests, it’s just what the word says: “I protest this. I do not like this.” Very often, the powers that be know that we don’t like what’s going on, but they’re determined to do it anyway. On the other hand, a nonviolent movement or a nonviolent campaign starts where you are right now, causes you to set a very clear, concrete objective. And I like to say also that it should be a written objective. Nobody can give you what you want unless you know what that is.
Nash’s “Proposal for Montgomery” offers a clear example of what she means by written objectives. The two objectives in that proposal were:
1. Removal of George Wallace from the governorship of Alabama.
2. Every 21 year old resident or Alabama can register to vote.
The power of having written objectives and a plan is evidenced by the results. Eventually movement leaders converged in Selma, galvanized by the clear vision and plan of action. One of the two objectives in the plan came to pass. People could register to vote (with restrictions), however Wallace remained in office until 1987. Well-planned campaigns and hard-fought struggles rarely win every demand, but that doesn’t mean defeat. Victories are incremental and the struggle is iterative.
Credit: Written by Bruce Hartford. Published by Civil Rights Movement Veterans, n.d.
Grade Level: 10-12, Adult
Time Period: 1950 -1974