A civil rights activist who organized bus and car rides from Birmingham to the March on Washington 60 years ago has died.
Andrew Marrisett, one of the first paid field staffers in Birmingham for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, did not attend the March on Washington himself on Aug. 28, 1963, but organized transportation for others who wanted to go.
Marrisett, of Birmingham, died on Aug. 14. He was 87.
“I wanted to go, but I thought it was better to stay behind to help those who were trying to go to the courthouse and register to vote,” Marrisett recalled to The Birmingham News in 2013, on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. “That was our task, talking to people explaining to them how to register to vote.”
Many activists from Alabama rode buses, drove cars and took trains to get to Washington for the march and rally best remembered for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“Any way you could get there,” Marrisett said a decade ago. “Each neighborhood might have been doing its own thing and you wouldn’t know about it.”
Marrisett joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference field staff in 1963, and was arrested on April 15, 1963 during demonstrations led by King in Birmingham.
“We lost an icon,” said his ex-wife, Evangelist Floris Marrisett of Stone Mountain, Ga., who officiated a memorial service for him on Saturday, Ag. 26, at Poole’s Funeral Home in Birmingham. “I always told him he should write a book.”
Marrisett is mentioned in some civil rights histories, but much of what he knew about King and the Birmingham movement died with him.
In “Carry Me Home,” civil rights historian Diane McWhorter mentions Marrisett joining the group of lieutenants to King who became “minor legends” on the SCLC staff:
“Andy Young and Bernard Lee, the old Alabama State sit-in leader who was now King’s aide-de-camp, helped (James) Bevel break in a corps of young lieutenants, recent high school graduates like Andrew Marrisett and James Orange, who would go on to become minor legends as SCLC staff members.”
Marrisett was trained in non-violent protest training workshops led by SCLC staff member James Bevel, then later led those workshops himself.
Andrew Kwanza Marrisett II said his father didn’t speak of his SCLC work much to the family. “I guess there’s kind of a foot soldiers’ creed,” he said.
Marrisett, who was born in Birmingham on May 4, 1936, had done occasional Facebook Live commentaries in recent years in which he offered up his opinions on current events and politics and encouraged people to vote.
Marrisett was outspoken in his criticism when a protest in Birmingham’s Linn Park downtown turned violent after the killing of George Floyd in 2020.
“The way to do it is organization, having a spokesperson, having an agenda, having a fixed goal, knowing what we are marching for,” Marrisett said in 2020. “All those things can come together. It has to be organized.”
Marrisett said he was sickened by watching the video of Floyd dying with a police officer’s knee on his neck. “My soul still hurts,” he said.
“I am totally in agreement with peaceful protest,” said Marrisett. “Police brutality throughout this country needs to stop. But I don’t condone violence in any form, especially when you’re fighting for your rights.”