NAACP gala will honor Webb-Christburg, others

Published 10:37 pm Monday, February 2, 2015

The nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization will shed some light on Selma to Montgomery marchers sometimes overlooked during an upcoming commemorative gala.

Selma native Sheyann Webb-Christburg is one of a handful of individuals that will be honored at the Alabama State Conference of NAACP’s 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March Gala.

Held March 5 at the Renaissance Hotel and Spa in Montgomery, the 7 p.m. ceremony will honor individuals who participated in the historic march.

“It’s always a good feeling to be honored for the right reason and the right person,” said Webb-Christburg, who at eight years old was the youngest person to march in the 1965 demonstration remembered now as Blood Sunday. “It will reflect not only my participation as a child during that time, possessing the courage and commitment that I had as that little girl, but also will reflect the results of Dr. Martin Luther King, other leaders and the many unsung heroes.”

Others scheduled to be recognized at the gala include Robert Gretz, a civil rights activist who ministered to a black congregation during the Montgomery Bus Boycott; Charles Dale, a retired St. Paul C.M.E. Church who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement; and four others who have not been confirmed, according to the Alabama State Conference of NAACP.

Benard Simelton, president of the conference, said the NAACP wanted to focus on people who were influential in the Voting Rights Movement but not as well known as others who participated.

“It wasn’t, maybe, as major [of a] role as others, but never the less their contribution helped to make the march successful,” he said.

Labeled the “Smallest Freedom Fighter” by civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 8-year-old Webb-Christburg would sneak out of her house to attend church meetings concerning the historic movement and led the congregation in singing.

“My parents constantly threatened me about not participating,” Webb-Christburg said. “During those times people could not only lose their lives, but they could also lose their jobs. My parents were like so many others who had that type of fear, but I think it was the courage and the determination that Dr. King instilled in me along with Jonathan Daniels, who I spent a great deal of time with, that helped to give me the clarity that I needed.”

Webb-Christburg shared her experiences in a book she co-authored titled “Selma, Lord, Selma: Girlhood Memories of the Civil Rights Days.” The book later became a Disney television movie that NAACP Image Awards nominated for the Best Television Mini Series in 2000.

Simelton said the hosting organization is anticipating the event, but realizes that there is still work to be done before the fight for the equal right to vote is over. Simelton said he hopes the event will help educate the public on the importance of voting, push more people to join the movement to help register eligible voters and encourage people to join the NAACP.

“It’s very exciting, and it’s something that is certainly long overdue,” Simelton said. “While we take this take time to commemorate and honor those who made some sacrifices and contributions, we realize that we still have a long ways to go to ensure that everyone has equal access to the ballot box.”

Admission is $50 per person. The reception begins at 6 p.m. For more information, visit http://alnaacp.org/ or contact ASC assistant secretary and the event’s committee chairperson Tonya Lee at 205-514-2859.