Spider Martin: Image and Activism
The Selma to Montgomery March was a landmark event in American history which ultimately led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In February of 1965, twenty-seven-year-old Jimmy Lee Jackson, demonstrating with his family for the right to vote, was fatally injured in Marion (Perry County), Alabama. Jackson had placed his body between his mother and a state trooper’s club and was shot in his abdomen. His death galvanized groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Active in voter registration efforts in the Black Belt, these groups decided to stage the largest demonstration on behalf of equal voting rights for African Americans in history—a march from the Dallas County seat, Selma, to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, a distance of fifty-four miles.
James “Spider” Martin, a native of Wylam, Alabama, and an up-and-coming photographer with the Birmingham News, was sent down to Selma to cover Jackson’s death. Martin had cut his teeth on civil rights coverage during the events that happened in Birmingham in 1963. Even with that background, he could have no idea how instrumental his work would be to the Selma movement. With his camera, Spider Martin would serve as recorder, witness and moral compass for the rest of the country trying to make sense of the situation unfolding in Alabama.
“Dr. King told me the reason they were marching and protesting in Alabama was because of George Wallace, Bull Connor, Sheriff Jim Clark and Al Lingo. They all fell into the plan. Dr. King said we could march and protest in Chicago and nobody would care. But in Alabama . . .”