Sheyann Webb Christburg
"Smallest Freedom Fighter"
At just 8 years old, Sheyann Webb was the youngest civil rights activist who marched in the 1965 demonstration that came to be known as "Bloody Sunday."
Who Is Sheyann Webb?
Born in 1956 in Alabama, Sheyann Webb became involved with the Civil Rights Movement when she was 8 years old, a commitment that was heightened after she met Martin Luther King Jr. On March 7, 1965, Webb was the youngest participant in the civil rights demonstration that became known as "Bloody Sunday." A book she co-authored about her experiences, Selma, Lord, Selma, became a television movie.
Sheyann Webb was born in 1956 in Selma, Alabama, where she grew up in a family of eight children. When she was only 8 years old, a chance encounter changed the trajectory of her life. Webb was passing by the Brown Chapel AME Church on her way to school when she saw a crowd of black and white people standing together, an unusual circumstance in 1960s Alabama. She followed the group into the church, and ended up attending a meeting for the Civil Rights Movement.
Webb, along with her best friend, Rachel West, later returned to the church to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak. King's words motivated the two girls to join the Civil Rights Movement. It was a commitment that was solidified when, on another occasion, Webb and West met King when he arrived at the church for a meeting. He allowed the two to stay for the meeting; afterward, he asked if they were going to march. They answered that they intended to march for their freedom.
Webb grew increasingly dedicated to the fight for civil rights, going so far as to skip school in order to attend meetings for the movement. After a young African American, Jimmie Lee Jackson, was killed by police following a peaceful demonstration, a march from Selma to Montgomery was organized to protest his death, and to demand equal voting rights for African Americans. Despite her parents' worries, Webb decided to join the march on March 7, 1965.
Webb understood that the demonstration could be dangerous, and her fears were justified: At Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge, the demonstrators were ordered to turn back. When they did not turn around, police beat them with billy clubs and released tear gas into the crowd.
Caught in the violence, Webb was scooped up by another activist, Hosea Williams. When he put her down, she ran as fast as she could back toward home. There, her family was waiting for her. At 8 years old, Webb had been the youngest person on the attempted march, which became known as "Bloody Sunday."
On March 21, 1965, another march left from Selma. Webb disobeyed her parents and joined the group, but was soon picked up by her family. Though she did not participate in the entire march, she was in the crowd of 25,000 people that gathered in Montgomery when the march was successfully completed.
Webb and West recounted their experiences with the Civil Rights Movement to Frank Sikora, which resulted in the book Selma, Lord, Selma (1980). The book was made into a television movie that aired on January 17, 1999; in the film, Webb was portrayed by actress Jurnee Smollett. Webb also keeps the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement alive by continuing to tell the story of "Bloody Sunday."