BERNARD Lafayette Jr. wasn't portrayed in the movie "Selma," about the historic marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 to seek voting rights for African-American citizens.
Yet history shows that the young activists of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) wouldn't have been in Selma if not for Lafayette.
Lafayette, who spent part of his childhood in Philadelphia, was a college roommate of former SNCC activist Congressman John R. Lewis (D-Ga.) at American Baptist College, in Nashville, Tenn.
After nonviolence training in Nashville, Lafayette volunteered to direct an SNCC voting-rights campaign in Selma in 1962 - even after SNCC's leaders determined that it was too dangerous. Two different scouting teams had been dispatched to visit the city.
"They said the white folks are too mean and the black folks are too afraid," Lafayette told the Daily News this week. He also tells the story in his book, In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma.
Lafayette, now 75, went to Selma at age 22 to work with Amelia Boynton Robinson and her husband, Samuel Boynton, who both had already been working for voting rights for 30 years.
Lafayette and Robinson, who is at least 104, are scheduled to speak about their years in Selma tonight at the Germantown Friends Meeting, on Coulter Street. The event is free, but the group Friends of Amelia is requesting donations to support both the Village of Hope community program for troubled youth in Tuskegee, Ala., and to support Robinson's care and traveling needs.
Lafayette wasn't in Selma on "Bloody Sunday," March 7, 1965, when both Lewis and Robinson were brutally beaten. There is an iconic photo of an unconscious Boynton, wearing a white coat and being cradled by a young man, that was replicated in the "Selma" film.
That day, Lafayette was in Chicago, where he was often dispatched to train young people, including young gang leaders, in how to take part in peaceful marches. He returned to Selma for the March 21 protest, when thousands gathered to complete the 50-mile Selma-to-Montgomery march.
Earlier that week, Lafayette needed a ride from Birmingham to Selma. A white woman volunteer from Detroit named Viola Liuzzo came to pick him up. Liuzzo was assassinated on March 25, 1965, by Ku Klux Klan members as she ferried marchers to airports or bus stations.
"I had been in that very same car that she was killed in only a couple days before," Lafayette recalled.
Although Lafayette wasn't beaten on Bloody Sunday, he had been beaten several times before. In 1961, after a bus ride to Montgomery, when he was a 21-year-old student leader of the Freedom Riders, people in a white mob broke three of his ribs.
And on June 12, 1963, the same night that Medgar Evers was killed in Mississippi, Lafayette was beaten by a couple of white men who pretended that their car had broken down and asked Lafayette to give them a push.
They clubbed him in the head several times. But Lafayette wasn't knocked out, so he called for help, and a neighbor came out on his porch with a shotgun. "I stood between my neighbor and the men because I didn't want him to shoot them," Lafayette said.
Before the 1960 college student sit-ins, Lafayette - along with other SNCC leaders, such as Lewis, Diane Nash and James Bevel - was trained in nonviolent strategies in Nashville by the Rev. James Lawson, of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Lafayette was born in Tampa, Fla. From age of 9 to 12, he lived in Philadelphia when his father came to work as a carpenter at the old Philadelphia Shipyard. Lafayette attended Spring Garden Elementary. At 12, Lafayette and his sisters went back to Florida to help care for his ailing grandmother.
Lafayette, who earned a doctorate in education from Harvard, said he didn't mind being left out of the "Selma" movie. "It was a drama. It was Hollywood. But I think it made an important contribution. The actors were very good."
The movie created interest in the real history of those times, times that are mirrored by a new generation of young people taking to the streets since last summer to protest police killings of unarmed citizens in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and New York.
"I'm very optimistic about that," Lafayette said. "They are putting their bodies on the line - like we did."
The only thing missing, he said, is a more coordinated organizing effort for today's protesters. He said that he's working to help train young activists now.
"There's a difference in organizing for a march or demonstration and putting together a coalition of people who are meeting and planning for a strategy. That's what we learned in Nashville."