Spokanites and the Civil Rights Movement, 1964-1965

Solidarity between North and South

On June 21st, 1964, one black and two white student activists were killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Only three weeks later, three lawyers from Spokane, Washington, two white and one black departed for Mississippi during the historic 1964 Summer of Freedom.

Sponsored by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the 1964 Freedom Summer was set up as a voter registration drive amidst the tension of civil rights activism which had grown in frequency across the South. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were the names of the student activists who were killed before the northwestern lawyer's arrival, at first described by authorities as only missing. Carl Maxey, appointed in 1963 as the Chairman of the Washington State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by President John F. Kennedy went with his colleagues, Samuel Fancher & Thomas F. Lynch to help assist protestors and activists who required legal representation.

Maxey called Mississippi “the tail end of America” and said his work was “conducted in the most hostile environment imaginable”. He noted that “hundreds of angry Ku Klux Klan members, including the man later convicted of killing Medgar Evers, surrounded the courthouse.” Maxey helped to represent some of the 111 arrested protestors, including Stokely Carmichael and 13 freedom summer volunteers. During the three weeks he spent in Mississippi, Maxey met the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Despite the turmoil and danger, Maxey would later recall the time as “one of the finest summers I've ever had. And I feel it was a reflection of America. It was the first time both black and white worked hand-in-hand in a humanitarian concern—the right to vote and the right to live.”

Spokane followed Maxey’s lead the following year, black and white working hand-in-hand. In 1965, Gonzaga students, mostly white (though including African Americans such as Sam Minnix and his sister Verda, pictured) marched in front of Spokane’s courthouse to show support for those marching from Selma on March 21st.

There were two Spokanites there in the march for Montgomery as well, Mike Kobluk and Chad Mitchell, after being invited by acclaimed musician Harry Belafonte. Although such displays highlighted the solidarity between the two regions in their respective fights for civil rights, the march by Gonzaga students would be the last form of public civil rights protesting in Spokane during the 1960s.