Plymouth Rock Baptist Church observes 50th anniversary of civil rights movement

Staff Writer
Plaquemine Post South
In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, Plymouth Rock Baptist Church held an educational forum and commemorative march. The original church was the scene of demonstrations during the period. 

PLAQUEMINE – In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, Plymouth Rock Baptist Church held an educational forum on Friday and commemorative march on Sunday.

An overflow crowd watched the film, "The Louisiana Diary" and listened to a panel recall the events that led to the "Great March on Washington," one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history.

Panelists included Ronnie Moore, Dr. Lance Hill, Torris Armstead and Kathe Hambrick-Jackson and were moderated by retired Judge Calvin Johnson.

"The events in Plaquemine were horrific but were overshadowed by the March on Washington," organizer Linda Johnson said. "This did not stop people here from realizing just how much Plaquemine had done to shape the history of civil rights in this country."

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington D.C. and called for civil and economic rights for African Americans. Martin Luther King, Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech advocating racial harmony during the march.

In Plaquemine at that time, a peaceful ride on the ferry landed riders in jail setting off a civil disturbance, according to Johnson.

More than 300 people - mostly black teenagers - were jailed during demonstrations as horse-mounted police officers searched for James Farmer, the founder of the Congress for Racial Equality.

The events began after a local pastor had extended an invitation to CORE following the purging of voter rolls in 1958, diminishing the number of black residents eligible to vote in local elections.

An interracial group of 40 CORE volunteers arrived at the city on July 14, 1963. The civil-rights protests were sparked on Aug. 11, when 25 CORE volunteers were arrested on the Plaquemine ferry to St. Gabriel because they refused to adhere to the vessel's segregation rules. They were booked on disturbing the peace.

Approximately 500 people marched on Plaquemine City Hall singing freedom songs and praying on Aug. 19, 1963.

Police officers sprayed the crowd with tear gas, and 17 people, including Farmer, were jailed.

Two days later, hundreds of local protesters ignored a U.S. district judge's temporary order prohibiting demonstrations in Plaquemine, leading to the arrests of 69 people during a sit-in at City Hall and another 171 for holding demonstrations outside segregated restaurants and the parish courthouse.

"People were anxious to remember the events, reminisce and look forward to the future," Johnson said.

The program culminated with a bus trip to the old site of Plymouth Rock Baptist Church located at 1006 Court Street with a prayer and song.

The bus riders then congregated back to the new site to remember 50 freedom participants now deceased and enjoy the message brought by Spiver Gordon, a field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality, who was incarcerated in Plaquemine in 1963.

"As we have been told several times this weekend, the struggle is not over," Johnson said. "We need voters willing to vote. We need better housing, better education and jobs to make sure we have some quality of life."

Tapes of the activities are available at Plymouth Rock Baptist