Tensions across the country were high in April 1968 when Boise’s first civil rights rally took place. Martin Luther King Jr had been assassinated on April 4. On April 13, the Idaho Statesman reported that 39 people had been killed in rioting nationwide. That front-page story was secondary to coverage of the 700 people who rallied on the Capitol steps on Good Friday in support of civil rights.
A four-column headline read, “Negroes, Whites Join Voices, Hands in Statehouse Rally.” The Reverend Dwight Williams, pastor at Hillview Methodist Church, gave the opening invocation, which included the words, “seeking freedom,” but “come in peace.” Signs in the crowd read “We Shall Overcome,” “Idaho Awake,” and “Presbyterians Support Rights for Minorities, Indians, Negroes, Spanish Speaking Americans.” Led by the St. Paul Baptist Church Choir, the crowd sang spiritual numbers and clapped along.
The NAACP’s legislative committee chair, Paul Gordon, got some laughs when he alluded to local talk radio alleging “that outside provocateurs are stirring up our happy Negroes.”
There were calls during that first rally for a civil rights commission to be created in Idaho. It wasn’t long in coming. The Idaho Human Rights Act passed during the next Legislative session in 1969, creating the Idaho Human Rights Commission. Then Senator Phil Batt (R) was instrumental in creating the commission.
At least one person attended both the 1968 rally and the 2020 vigil, retiring Idaho State Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb (D).
Thanks to Phillip Thompson, board president of the Idaho Black History Museum for making me aware of this snapshot from Idaho history that reflects down the years into the present.