February 17, 1956|
Alabama, United States
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Smallest Freedom Fighter" and co-author of the book, Selma, Lord, Selma. As an eight-year-old, Sheyann Webb-Christburg took part in the first attempted Selma to Montgomery march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, known as Bloody Sunday.
Sheyann was born on February 17, 1956, in Selma, Alabama to John and Betty Webb. She grew up in a family of eight children. She attended the segregated public schools of Dallas County, Alabama. In her junior high years she was one of the first blacks to integrate an all-white school. Sheyann says that her junior high years were the most horrific. She was pushed down stairs, called bad names, suspended from school, and spit on, but nothing was done by the school administration. One day nine-year-old Sheyann and her friend Rachel were playing outside when they noticed a car drive up at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church with several nicely dressed Negro men.
They walked over to the car not knowing who was in the car and they were introduced to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They were told that Dr. King had come to Selma, Alabama to help the Negro people get voting rights.
Each night when mass meeting were held at the church, Sheyann would sneak out of her house to attend the meetings. She would also lead the congregation in singing freedom songs. Her favorite freedom song was "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around".
Sheyann became so involved with the Selma movement that she began skipping school to attend the demonstrations. Despite warnings from her parents she continued to skip school.
Sheyann learned many things from Dr. King. He taught her and Rachel "Children what do you want, your answer should be freedom." He also taught her that no matter what the color of your skin is you should treat everybody right and children also had a battle to fight.
There were many demonstrations held in Selma when African Americans tried to register to vote. They were only allowed two days out of the month to register. Most of the time it was unsuccessful because they were given a literacy test that was very difficult to pass; this kept them from registering.
Also demonstrations were held in nearby counties for the same purpose. One night a young black man by the name of Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed while demonstrating for voting rights.
To draw attention to the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, it was decided that a 54-mile march to the state capital of Alabama would take place. They would present a petition to Governor Wallace to protest that Negroes were not being treated fairly.
On Sunday, March 7, 1965, Sheyann was the youngest person to attempt to march to Montgomery. As they left Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, she walked near the back with her teacher.
Once the marchers had crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge they were ordered to turn back. When they refused they were chased by deputies on horseback, beat with billy clubs, and tear gassed. As she was running back with the other marchers to Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, she was picked up by Rev. Hosea Williams, who was one of the leaders of the march.
As of 2006, because of her involvement in the Selma movement, she has determined to keep the fight alive. She currently resides in Montgomery, Al., and works for Alabama State University. Several ways she has chosen to do that by being the founder of Keep Entertaining Everyday People (KEEP), co-author of the book Selma Lord Selma (with best childhood friend, Rachel West), which later became a Disney movie entitled Selma, Lord, Selma.
Sheyann travels around the country telling her story about what happened on Bloody Sunday. As an eight-year-old she says that, that day changed her life for ever.