The 1965 Sympathy March
In March of 1965, Anderson College students witnessed the social unrest in Alabama caused by State Troopers deploying gas on peaceful protesters on the outskirts of Selma. After the horrors of the march were displayed on television, Martin Luther King Jr. called for religious clergy to join the Civil Rights movement. In response to these events, a group of people connected to Anderson College organized a march from campus to the Anderson City Courthouse and back. The march was scheduled to follow chapel on March 18th, and President Reardon agreed to lead it.
Before the march, President Reardon sent out a statement discussing the divide this march would undoubtedly create on campus among faculty and students, but stressed the importance of remaining peaceful no matter one's opinion on the matter. Despite the contents and manner of the statement, the march led to a serious controversy within the Church of God between those who supported and those who opposed the march.
Some students, faculty, and clergy members who supported the march wanted to make it known as to why they were marching; such as Rev. Marvin J. Hartman, of St. Joseph, Michigan, did. In a letter to the Alumni Office—which was then passed on to President Reardon—on March 15th, Hartman explained his reason for marching by stating, “When freedom is denied to ANY American the freedom of all of us is in jeopardy...even though we feel safe here and far from Selma, the freedom and security of ALL people in Berrien County [Michigan] is also, in reality, at stake.”
Those who opposed wrote letters threatening to pull their children from attendance at the school, or stating that Reardon was uninformed and listening to hear-say produced by the media. A majority of the letters from people against the march had two main arguments in common: by marching, Anderson College was undermining the work done by the Church of God in the South; and AC should be evangelizing, instead of marching for Civil Rights, because life on earth is temporary, but the afterlife is eternal.
Despite the controversy it sparked, the march was accomplished without problems. Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff protested peacefully by silently marching arm in arm. Two AC faculty members and two AC students went on to participate in demonstrations in Selma shortly after. Other Church of God congregations around the country had also been holding sympathy marches in their own communities.
The importance of the event on March 18th is not what it accomplished, but rather, the message it sent to the people connected to the Church of God and AC. With President Reardon leading the march, the event illustrated that the support for the Black community is not led simply by a student organization, but by the administration. In summary, participation in the march cemented Anderson College’s message of commitment to overcoming the struggle of Black inequality.
That does not mean that the struggle was over or without difficulty. Anderson College faced challenges, and even struggled to support the Black students on campus. One such instance was the difficulty of the creation of the Onyx Society, a Black student run social club with its original intents of being a Black Student Union.
The next page discusses the challenge Anderson College faced in regards to the Onyx Society after Reardon made his pledge to commit to overcoming Black inequality.
Letters and documents pertaining to and following the Sympathy March held on March 18, 1965. March 1965. Robert Reardon Papers. AC 156, File 4. Anderson University and Church of God Archives, Nicholson Library, Anderson, IN.