Black Leaders Visit Burned Shady Grove Baptist Church On This Day In 1962

D.L. Chandler August 15, 2014

Shady Grove Church

During the height of the Civil Rights Movement in America, African-American leaders struggled against a racist and often unseen power structure. On this day in 1962, a church that was burned down for being a site of voter registration and activist efforts was visited by the Movement’s top leaders.

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On August 14th of that year, the Shady Grove Baptist Church in Leesburg, Ga., was suspiciously burned, after it and other churches in the state served as a base for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) whose goal was to bring equality to the South.

It was the first of four churches that were burned that year, sparking civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Wyatt T. Walker of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to speak out against the crimes.

Officials claimed that faulty wiring or lightning caused the Shady Grove Church burning, but that was later disproved after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, arrested and charged two White men, Jack Smith and Douglas Parker, with the arson that October.

The formal charge against the men was conspiring against the rights of citizens, according to newspaper articles of the day.

Dr. King wrote in the SCLC’s September newsletter in a column titled, “The Terrible Cost of the Ballot” and spoke about how being in the presence of the church’s ruins rendered him emotional:

Tears welled up in my heart and my eyes not long ago as I surveyed the shambles of what had been the Shady Grove Baptist Church of Leesburg, Georgia. I had been awakened shortly after daybreak by my executive assistant, the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, who informed me that a SNCC (Student Non violent Coordinating Committee) staffer had just called and reported that the church where their organization had been holding voting clinics and registration classes had been destroyed by fire and/or dynamite.

Lee Count y is one of the three southwest Georgia counties where for years an attempt to register to vote has been tantamount to inviting death. As I stood there sensing the intense heat from the smoldering remains, there came to mind all of the protestations of these segregationists, the conservative Whites, the liberals, and many Negroes who have not yet grasped the meaning of nonviolent direct action.

The other churches that were burned were Mount Olive and Mount Mary Baptist churches near the towns of Sasser and Albany in the state.

Major League Baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson was in Albany when the churches were burned and led a fund-raising effort to get the buildings rebuilt. It was not clear if the other fires were connected with the Shady Grove incident.

SEE ALSO: Carl Gustaf von Rosen Supports Biafrans In Civil War On This Day in 1968

Last Edited by:iboateng Updated: March 26, 2016


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