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Inspired by History

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Selma, Alabama Hotel Albert Archive, Including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Freedom Day” Registration Filled Out Moments Before He was Violently Assaulted
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Relating to the events that led to Dr. King’s jailing and his famous essay in defense of nonviolent protest, “A letter from a Selma, Alabama jail”; the horrifying “Bloody Sunday” that ended on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7; the subsequent March to Montgomery on March 17; and the crucial events that culminated in the Voting Rights Act of August 1965.

The Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 6, 1964, prohibited the segregation of public facilities. Despite this law, concerted efforts continued to keep Jim Crow alive. On the day the Civil Rights Act became law, John Lewis led 50 Black citizens to the Selma, Alabama, courthouse to register to vote. County sheriff Jim Clark, whose posse of 200 deputies included members of the Ku Klux Klan and the National States’ Rights Party, arrested them. A few days later, a local court issued an (unconstitutional) injunction that forbade more than two people at a time to talk about civil rights or voter registration in Selma, which succeeded in suppressing civil rights and voting rights activity for the next six months.

It was against this backdrop that a local group, the “Courageous Eight” requested assistance from Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). On January 2, 1965, in defiance of the injunction, King addressed a large meeting held in Selma’s Brown Chapel. Preparations for mass voter registration commenced over the next two weeks. King called President Johnson on January 15; they agreed to plan a massive voting rights registration, which would also support the Johnson administration’s “War on Poverty.”

On the first “Freedom Day” of the new campaign, January 18, 1965, King returned to Selma. Arriving at the Hotel Albert, he signed in to room 202 as “Martin Luther King, Jr., 563 Johnson Ave., Atlanta, Ga.,” becoming the first African-American guest of the hotel which had been built by slave labor in the nineteenth century. He spent one night there at a $5 daily rate and was billed for three local phone calls and breakfast. (See image above.)

While checking in, King was assaulted by a member of the National States’ Rights Party. According to the Jim Crow Museum, James George Robinson “attacked King for trying to register at the Hotel Albert, a formerly whites-only business in Selma, Alabama. He punched King several times, and before black onlookers intervened, kicked him in the groin. King refused to press charges. Two months later, Robinson was arrested for beating a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) photographer.”

John Lewis, a member of the SNCC, later said, “It was the closest I’ve ever come to laying down my non-violence. I found out that day, even I have limits.” That same day, King and four hundred marchers set off from Brown’s A&E Chapel to the County Courthouse in Selma to protest illegal voting rights practices being committed against African Americans in the Southern United States.

[Selma Hotel Archive]. More than 300 individual receipts printed with “Hotel Albert, Selma Alabama” heading, itemized with room rates, and charges for phone calls, meals, and other details, for Martin Luther King, Jr. and many Civil Rights leaders, advocates, opponents, and government agents. Each approx. 5½ x 8 in. Spanning roughly 20 months, from November 1964 through June 1966, and representing a “who’s who” of notable Civil Rights leaders, specifically centered around the Selma, Alabama campaign for voting rights. With eight Hotel Albert room keys on branded leather or plastic fobs, a late-19th-century brochure illustrating the hotel in its heyday, and an early-20th-century photographic postcard of the hotel taken during a fire.

Inventory #27578       Price: $24,000

Also includes room registrations for:

  • Civil Rights Movement leaders such as SCLC members Ralph D. Abernathy, Bernard Lee, Dorothy Cotton, Charles A. Lingo Jr., Andrew J. Young, Hosea Williams, and John Lewis.
  • Staunch segregationist and governor of Alabama, George Wallace, who kept a headquarters in the hotel’s lobby for one month and accrued a bill totaling $250.
  • Virulent opponents of Civil Rights, including American Nazi Party founder [George] Lincoln Rockwell. His associates Robert Lloyd and Jerald Quillan Dutton were there for several days working for the National States’ Rights Party, which assisted the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups in countering the Freedom Riders and the Marches on Washington.
  • Members of every major news outlet, including all three television networks, and over 20 newspapers and magazines, among them the Washington Post, New York Times, and various British and French news agencies. 25-year-old Ted Koppel, is among the journalists who signed room receipts, as is novelist and Civil Rights activist Gay Talese.
  • Representatives of several government agencies, including the State Department, the Justice Department, the Department of Commerce, and the F.B.I.

Construction on the Hotel Albert began in 1860, was halted during the Civil War, and resumed in 1867. Modeled on the Doge’s Palace in Venice, it took up almost an entire city block. During its heyday, it featured a skating rink and numerous shops. By the 1960s, it was a shadow of its former glory, but it still served as a vital location for accommodation in the city, and it is clear why it is considered Ground Zero for the monumental events that unfolded. The hotel was razed just a few years later, in 1969.

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