In light of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery marches in 1965 and the release of the film Selma, we’ve been diving into the seven remarkable radio programs Studs Terkel recorded during his visit to Alabama to chronicle the movement. The range of voices and sounds from these programs is some of the most gripping in-the-moment oral history in the entire Studs Terkel Radio Archive, and a thrilling immersion in the raw emotions of a huge social movement unfolding in real time.

Below is the first of Studs’s seven Montgomery programs. The fifty-minute recording features dozens of voices; it starts with the remarkable voice of 104-year-old Reverend William Franklin Paschal (born in 1861!) sitting on the steps of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church watching the march and sharing his philosophy of life. It moves on to the voice of a 19-year-old white taxi driver resentful of Martin Luther King’s presence in Alabama, and then on to a philosophical barber.  The recording ends with a dramatic late-night scene in the cocktail lounge of the Greystone Hotel in which detectives hover, eyeing Studs’s tape recorder suspiciously; fellow reporters trade notes over bourbon; and Studs is given a remarkable confession by Colonel Al Munson, one of the leaders of the National Guard charged with protecting the marchers.  Please note that this recording contains offensive language.

Many of these situations are also described in Studs’s 1977 memoir Talking to Myself in the chapter “Oh, Freedom.”

We will be sharing other installments from Studs’s Montgomery, Alabama programs in the coming weeks.

Selma to Montgomery march, halted at the Edmund Pettus bridge (Tuesday, March 9, 1965)

Selma to Montgomery march, halted at the Edmund Pettus bridge (Tuesday, March 9, 1965)


Photos: Jack Rabin collection on Alabama civil rights and southern activists, 1941-2004 (bulk 1956-1974), Historical Collections and Labor Archives, Eberly Family Special Collections Library, University Libraries, Pennsylvania State University.

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