One more lost

Published 9:24 pm Thursday, October 27, 2011

Selma lost a pioneer in the civil rights movement Wednesday, with the death of activist Ernest Doyle. Doyle, who was 93, died at the Warren Manor Health and Rehabilitation Center.

As a member of Selma’s “Courageous Eight,” Doyle, along with members Marie Foster, J.D. Hunter, the Rev. Henry Shannon Jr., Amelia Boynton-Robinson, Ulysses Blackmon, James Gildersleeve and the Rev. F.D. Reese, helped to mobilize blacks in gaining the right to vote.

Doyle, who was also influential in inviting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Selma in 1965, was also a part of the city’s first integrated Selma City Council in 1972.

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Born March 9, 1918 in Marengo County, the fifth of 11 children to Ceasar and Willie Quincy Doyle, Doyle and his siblings grew up on a farm. Doyle’s father also worked at a sawmill. In 1923, Doyle’s family moved to the rural part of Selma and lived there for four years before relocating to Orrville.

Entering public school for the first time at age 10, Doyle began Keith Junior High School in 1928. Doyle was later drafted in the U.S. military, spending time in Europe before returning to Alabama in 1945. Doyle took up interior and exterior decorating and carpentry before taking interest in the Dallas County Voters League, where S.W. Boynton Sr., a Selma insurance agent, was president. Local leaders and Doyle’s colleagues praised his courageous efforts during the movement.

“He fought very hard to bring about a type of equality among the races,” Reese, a league member, said. “We participated in various meetings that dealt with the denial of voting rights for minorities and we were very instrumental in helping to bring about equality in our community for all people; we spent many hours together in the movement.”

In 1964, Doyle and two other league members — Gildersleeve and Reese, made history by running for public office. Though unsuccessful, Doyle ran again in 1972 and won — despite public opposition. Four other blacks — Reese, William Kemp, James Kimber and the Rev. Lorenzo Harrison — were also elected.

Harrison, who would serve 21 years on the council, said Doyle was an inspiration.

“He was outspoken and he worked with the council to help accomplish a lot of progress — he got a lot of things done,” Harrison said. “He understood how to direct things in the city; he was a wonderful councilman. I thought real well of him.”

Selma Mayor George Evans said Doyle’s courageous stances made a “tremendous impact” in Selma and the nation.

“He made history,” Evans said. “He made a sacrifice to make sure I, and people like me, could have the opportunity to sit in these seats (government). I send my condolences to the family.”

According to the book “The Selma Campaign, 1963-1965” written by Wally G. Vaughan, the voters league, which became a part of the NAACP, established a literacy program to teach blacks how to read and write so they could pass the literacy and poll tests that kept blacks disenfranchised at the time. Programs were held at Boynton’s office or local churches such as First Baptist Church.

“A black person in Dallas County could become a registered voter only if he or she had a voucher,” Doyle said in the book. “A voucher was a person who was already a registered voter in Dallas County and was well known in the community. All the men … who were members of the Dallas County Voters League served as vouchers.”

Soon the league put on mass meetings throughout the community, rallying blacks to register to vote.

“At this time (1965), we started hosting mass meetings on a regular basis, accompanied by public demonstration,” Doyle said. “In holding these mass meetings, it brought great interest among black people in the community.”

Doyle’s legacy, Reese said, was that of “equality.”
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Funeral arrangements have not yet been made for Doyle.