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Sheyann Webb-Christburg

Sheyann Webb-Christburg (February 17, 1956- )

Lifelong Freedom Fighter

During Black History Month 2014, the Center for the Church and the Black Experience is honoring faithful Black women freedom fighters. Today we honor Sheyann Webb-Christburg.

christburgA participant in the 1965 March across Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge (“Bloody Sunday”), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called 9-year old Sheyann Webb the “youngest freedom fighter”. Today, using her own experiences as an example, Sheyann Webb-Christburg continues to speak about the importance of youth involvement in struggles for social justice.  

One of eight children, Sheyann Webb was born in Selma, AL in 1956 and attended racially segregated public schools.  After a chance encounter with Dr. King outside her church in January 1965, she attended her first meeting to learn about plans for non-violent protests against the unjust voting practices.  Sheyann’s parents, who were active in the Civil Rights Movement, wanted her to be informed but not involved as they sought to protect her from the very real potential for violence and backlash.  Still, eight year-old Sheyann sneaked out at night and skipped classes in order to attend the rallies and demonstrations.  

Over time, Sheyann became a conduit of information for her classmates as well as her teachers, many of whom were afraid to participate for fear of losing their jobs.  During the rallies, Sheyann inspired attendees with her powerful singing, and she grew close to Dr. King, who was moved by her dedication.  After the murder of one protester during a rally, plans were made to march the 54 miles between Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL, the state capital, to present a voting rights petition to Gov. George Wallace.

On March 7, 1965, Sheyann and her teacher, Mrs. Margaret Moore, were part of the group that made the first Montgomery March attempt, which ended in a bloody confrontation with police beating, trampling and gassing marchers who refused to turn back after they had crossed the bridge.  Though she and her family were persecuted as a result of her continued involvement, Sheyann’s passion never waned.  She wasn’t allowed to march on the third attempt, but she did participate at the successful rally in Montgomery.  National television exposure to the violence led President Lyndon B. Johnson to propose and sign the Voting Rights Act soon after.  Sheyann asked her parents to register to vote as their birthday present to her.  Agreeing to her request, the first time they voted, they took her along as a witness.

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Compiled by Rhonda K. Craven

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