[1858:] I am not, nor have I ever been, in favour of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, ... of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. (Abraham Lincoln, emancipator of the Southern slave, during his 1858 race for the Senate, quoted in The Observer, 3 July 1994)
[1985:] A vigorous supporter of the Southern cause, [the actor John Wilkes Booth] was outspoken in his advocacy of slavery and his hatred of Lincoln. [...] Booth resolved to destroy the President and his officers at any cost.
On the morning of April 14, 1865, he learned that the President was to attend an evening performance of the comedy 'Our American Cousin' at Ford's Theatre in the capital. Booth hurriedly assembled his band [of conspirators]. Around 6pm Booth entered the deserted theatre, where he tampered with the outer door of the presidential box so that it could be jammed shut from the inside. He returned during the play's third act to find Lincoln and his guests unguarded. Entering the box, Booth drew a pistol and shot Lincoln through the back of the head. He grappled briefly with a patron, swung himself over the balustrade, and leaped off it, shouting "Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged!" [...]
Twelve days later, Federal troops arrived at a farm in Virginia, just south of the Rappahannock River, where a man said to be Booth was hiding in a tobacco barn. The barn was set afire, and the man either shot himself or was shot by a soldier. [...] some people doubted that the man was actually Booth, but none of the various charges that people or organizations other than Booth engineered the assassination was ever proved. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol 2, 375)
[1989:] In 1955-6, down in Montgomery County, Alabama, a new black leader had emerged who used the non-violent tactics of Gandhi [...]. The Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jnr was a powerful and charismatic preacher who symbolized the rising black fury at racism in the South [...].
In 1957 Congress had passed its first Civil Rights Bill for eighty years, and within the next eight years three more Bills were passed, banning discrimination [...]. This was helped along by marches and sit-ins, as black Americans demanded their rights - often in the face of savage attacks from white supremacists of the Ku Klux Klan. At least fifty people died and tens of thousands were arrested as demonstrations, 'freedom rides' and counter-attacks led to unrest right across the Southern USA. (Denselow, Music 31)
[Selma was] the last, and grandest civil rights event at which black and white protesters and musicians would come together. The march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965 resulted from demonstrations led by Martin Luther King that in turn had led to 1,150 people being locked up by the sheriff of Selma, Jim Clark. Worse still, a young voter-registration worker, Jimmie Lee Jackson, had died after being shot in the stomach by police.
King and his staff called for a massive march on the Alabama capital, but their first attempt failed when Clark's police turned back the marchers with cattle prods and clubs. The event had immediate repercussions in Washington [...]. On 21 March, the march began again, and this time King sent out an invitation to all his supporters, including celebrities from the music world, to join in. He knew that they could be in considerable danger.
Over five thousand people tramped in the hot sun through the Alabama cotton fields, while the cars of the State Troopers and the White Citizens Council drove provocatively past. [...] Pete Seeger was there, of course, and he rushed up and down with his notebook, trying to write down the words of freedom songs that no one had ever bothered to collect, as if he were trying to capture the spirit of this spontaneous, political music.
John Stewart, then a major celebrity with the Kingston Trio, joined the march for the final three days '[...] I stayed in this bombed-out church in Selma - the windows had been dynamited out, and we had to outrun the rednecks with baseball bats. It was like being in a war zone in your own country.'
The marchers were 30,000 strong by the time they reached Montgomery, their numbers swollen by celebrities [...]. John Stewart remembers bitterly that '[...] Peter, Paul and Mary and Joan Baez came in to walk the last mile. I hope you print that! They were the righteous ones about the movement, and they did a lot of good for it. I can't take that away. But I'd like to have seen them the other three days, when the National Guard weren't around.' [...]
Stewart left Montgomery lying on the floor of a car along with Yarrow and Belafonte, so they wouldn't be seen by the Klansmen. They escaped unharmed, as did Seeger, who had a nervous wait at Montgomery airport, where there was no police protection. In the aftermath of the march, the Klan shot one demonstrator, Viola Liuzzo, as she drove down the airport road.
[...] It is sadly appropriate that the Selma march should be remembered by at least one of its participants as a time of petty squabbling, rather than a magnificent, historic demonstration, for this event was to be the last of its kind for the white Northern protesters. The Times They Are A-Changing, they had sung, but they weren't changing the way they had expected. (Denselow, Music 42ff)
[1995:] I've discovered that protest songs work - but very slowly. [...] This song is from America. It was very popular in the 1950s and 1960s, with the freedom marchers in the South, Martin Luther King ... Optimistically, Iain and myself wrote a last verse. Because it covers the years from the 1850s, before the Civil War in America, and then the Civil War - the man in the tall black hat is Abraham Lincoln - to the present day, to the '50s. And fifteen years ago we wrote an optimistic last verse. Now it looks as though it's coming true. Somebody must have been listening. (Intro Hamish Imlach)