Who are the ‘Courageous Eight’ in 1965 Selma Civil Rights marches?

Xavier Roger


Nearly 60 years ago, Black leaders organized three marches from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, the state’s capitol, in protest of legislation preventing Black people from voting.

The three marches, with the final occurring on March 21, 1965, were led by historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and Rev. Hosea Williams.

But historians and Selma natives say the marches wouldn’t have come about without eight people in particular, all members of the Dallas County (Alabama) Voters League, known as the Courageous Eight.

The searing images of white state troopers attacking peaceful marchers in Selma were among the factors that eventually led President Lyndon B. Johnson and other lawmakers to  support national voting rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965

How did the marches come about?

Ernest Doyle (center) holding an NAACP sign at a rest camp site. Doyle and other protesters marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. He was also a member of the Courageous Eight, a group that spearheaded the voting rights movement in Selma.

In 1956, the NAACP was banned in Alabama, prompting members of the local Dallas County Voters League to hold NAACP activities underground, said activist-historian William Waheed, who wrote a book about Selma’s voters rights movement..

“One of the big problems in Selma is that you had about 60% to 70% of illiteracy among voting-age adults,” Waheed said.

The Dallas County Voters League eventually began hosting literacy classes, he said, but there remained obstacles for Black voters, including poll taxes and literacy tests with questions such as, “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”

“Want to register to vote?” Dallas County Voter's League flier.
Shown in a photo taken Wednesday, Feb., 26, 2009, is a building on the Corner of First Avenue and Summerfield Road in Selma, Ala. The building housed the former offices of the Dallas County Voters League and Selma's first black contractor, George Wilson, Sr. It has been added to the National and Alabama Historic Registers.

Local authorities told the voters league to cease public meetings but the group kept at it and eight people in particular – the Courageous Eight – remained active. Their work earned them a nickname locally among other Black families in Selma as “the Crazy Eight,” Waheed said.

“They were educators. They were business people. They were professional people, so people called them crazy because they challenged the system,” he said. “People also called them crazy because they knew they had awesome opportunities financially and professionally and they were giving it away.”


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