The Point Was, Voices of Young Activists Can, and Should Matter

By David Bradley

"When adults came to Selma, Selma had already been organized

by the students — not by the adults."

—Bettie Mae Fikes, a teenage activist in Selma, Alabama

I knew John Lewis and Martin Luther King, of course. Their leadership in the fight for voting rights is legendary. But Bettie Mae Fikes? Charles Bonner? Cleophas Hobbs? Never heard of them.

Those three were teenagers in Selma, Alabama, in the early 1960’s. Even though most adult civil rights activists had written off Selma as a lost cause in the fight to give African-Americans equal access to voting, these teenagers stepped up. They organized; they marched; they inspired their teachers to march. A basketball coach said his students told him as they left school to protest, “Coach I’m going to get your freedom.” The teenage activists were catalysts for change.

Their names are in the history—if you go looking. But their voices rec