Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s Involvement In “Bloody Sunday”

This photo, taken in 1965 by GGBTS student Anthony Vos, shows fellow protestors during the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Photo courtesy of Kevin Vos.
This photo, taken in 1965 by GGBTS student Anthony Vos, shows fellow protestors during the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Photo courtesy of Kevin Vos.

“Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala., 50 years ago provoked Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary students to put segregationists and civil rights leaders alike on notice that many Southern Baptists supported equal rights for all Americans regardless of race.

After law enforcement officials in Selma beat and tear gassed demonstrators advocating voting rights for blacks, injuring some 100 people, Golden Gate students voted to send telegrams to Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a segregationist, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

In addition, some students wanted to send a representative to participate in a march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery beginning March 21. Student Anthony Vos volunteered, and students and faculty donated money to pay for his travel. They instructed that any overage be given to King and his associates to defray their costs, Vos’ widow Pat told Baptist Press.

Anthony Vos’ “understanding when he went to the march was that he was going there … to let [civil rights leaders] know that Golden Gate Seminary was agreeing with their freedom march,” Pat Vos said.

Anthony Vos, who died in 2011 at age 72 after pastoring churches in California and Louisiana, arrived in Alabama March 24 and marched on the final leg of the journey to Montgomery, where 25,000 people gathered to protest the police brutality three weeks earlier and to demand equal voting rights for the state’s black population. Vos attempted to speak with King but was unable to make contact with him, Pat Vos said. Instead he spoke to members of King’s staff and expressed Golden Gate’s support of their efforts.

In 1983, former Golden Gate President Harold Graves published a history of the seminary titled “Into the Wind” in which he wrote that Vos “was so tired upon his arrival [in Alabama] that he went to sleep and actually had very little to report upon his return.” Pat Vos, however, said her husband was “disturbed” by the inaccuracy of that account and wrote a letter to Graves underscoring his active participation in the march. Vos never mailed the letter though, wishing not to appear disrespectful toward a leader of his alma mater.

At Golden Gate’s Mill Valley, Calif., campus, students voted without opposition in a March 1965 chapel service to send King a telegram stating, “We deplore the use of physical violence against those individuals protesting what they believe to be existing injustices. We encourage you in this struggle for civil rights and pray that from it will come equal justice for all men.”

In the same chapel service, students voted without opposition to send a message to Wallace stating, “We believe that sincere individuals ought to be able to protest the injustices they believe existing. We feel that police power should protect [t]his right of protest rather than deny it,” BP reported at the time.

The Selma campaign

Selma became the focus of voting rights activism because of a strategic plan by King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Dallas County, where Selma is located, had just 156 blacks registered to vote in 1961 of a voting-age African American population of 15,000. Among the ways blacks were prevented from registering was a difficult “knowledge of government” test administered to applicants for registration and a tendency by county official to deny blacks’ applications for registration because of minor errors on written forms, according to David Garrow’s book “Protest at Selma.”

In addition to committing voter discrimination, Dallas County had a sheriff that the SCLC believed would lose his temper and confront protestors violently — a response that the SCLC felt could draw national media attention to their campaign, according to Garrow.

The SCLC’s Selma campaign launched on Jan. 2, 1965, with a speech by King. Ongoing protests and violent clashes with law enforcement officials drew the hoped for media attention and culminated in an attempt to begin a march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7. King was not in Selma that day, perhaps alerted to the likelihood of violence, when 600 marchers were brutalized by a combination of state troopers and local law enforcement officials.

Protestors’ injuries included fractured ribs and wrists, severe head gashes, broken teeth and one possible fractured skull, Garrow reported. After a federal judge approved plans for a follow-up march on March 21, protestors successfully made the journey to Montgomery — joined by Vos on March 24.

The Selma campaign, according to Garrow, played a major role in the enactment of a federal Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
David Roach

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