June 11, 1963:
- Alabama Gov. George Wallace infamously stands in front of the doors of the University of Alabama’s Foster Auditorium refusing to admit two African-American students, James Hood and Vivian Malone, who were there to register and integrate the college as ordered by a federal district court.
- At 3:40 p.m. that afternoon, Gov. Wallace steps aside as Hood and Malone are escorted into the school by federalized Alabama National Guards and U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. Malone later says, “I didn’t feel I should sneak in, I didn’t feel I should go around the back door. If [Wallace] were standing the door, I had every right in the world to face him and to go to school.”
- Across the globe, Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk, publicly self-immolates by setting himself on fire on a busy road in Saigon. His act was a protest of Buddhist persecution by the South Vietnamese government. The Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of the suicide by Malcolm Browne brought world attention to the injustice when it ran in the Associated Press.
- Later after Gov. Wallace’s stand-down and stand-aside, President John F. Kennedy addresses the nation on civil rights. Asks Kennedy, “We preach freedom around the world, but are we to say to the world, and …to each other that this is the land of the free except for the Negroes?” The speech cribs heavily from Martin Luther King Jr., notably the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” which took moderate white Americans to task for not standing up more aggressively for civil rights.
- That night, civil rights activist Bernard Lafayette, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, is attacked in Selma, Alabama by a white man who Lafayette was just helping with his car. The attacker pistol whips Lafayette repeatedly leaving an open gash on his forehead. He is hospitalized.
June 12, 1963:
- Just after midnight, NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers is assassinated in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi by Klan member Byron De La Beckwith. Evers’ wife and children were at home awaiting his arrival when it happened. Bernard Lafayette’s wife Colia worked closely with Evers and was in Jackson when he was murdered, nursing her own wounds from King’s Birmingham clash with police in April that year.
- Later that morning, Bernard Lafayette checks out of the hospital against doctors wishes after learning what happened to Evers. But Lafayette didn’t go home to change his bloody clothes. Instead, as Gary May wrote in his book “Bending Toward Justice,” Lafayette “immediately went into the downtown streets, a walking advertisement that showed the city’s racists that they could not run him out of town.” Selma civil rights lawyer J. L. Chestnut found Lafayette walking with his “eyes all swollen, face bruised, blood all over his shirt. Chestnut tried to get him to go home, but Lafayette told him “No way,” and word his blood-stained shirt for the rest of the month.