The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Shirah (Samuel C. Jr.) Papers
Dates: ca.1955 - 2003; however, the bulk of the material dates between 1963 and 1964
Volume: .45 cubic foot
Samuel C. Shirah, Jr., was born April 23, 1943, in Troy, Alabama, to Fredna Oneita Shirah and Samuel C. Shirah, Sr., a Methodist minister. He had two siblings - Richard, born in 1944 and Sue, born in 1946. Sam's father met regularly with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., while the family was in Montgomery, Alabama, during the 1956 bus strike, and he was threatened repeatedly by White Citizens Council members during that time. Later, when the family was in Clayton, Alabama, George Wallace was a neighbor and served as Sam's seventh-grade Sunday School teacher.
According to Sam's sister, Dr. Sue Shirah Sands, Sam became active in civil rights while he was at Birmingham-Southern College. He left college and joined SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) as a white student organizer. In April of 1963 Sam learned of the murder in Attala, Alabama, of a white postal worker, William Moore, who had traveled alone on foot from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to protest segregation. Moore had planned to end his march in Jackson, Mississippi. On May 1, 1963, Sam joined nine other volunteers to finish the march that Moore had started. Upon arrival at the Alabama State line, Sam and the other volunteers were arrested and jailed.
After his release from jail in Alabama, Sam participated in civil rights activities first in Alabama and then in Danville, Virginia, where he was arrested on vagrancy charges. The removal of a part of his kidney in 1966 was a consequence of beatings during his incarceration there. From Danville Sam returned to Alabama to begin his work as campus activist. He was in Birmingham when the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church resulted in the death of four black children; Sam attended their funeral.
In December of 1963, Sam proposed a program to SNCC called the White Community Project, or White Folks Project, to register poor whites to vote and help them to understand the similarities of their plights with that of African-Americans. Three sites in Mississippi were selected for this 1964 summer project, and Sam became active in the Biloxi area.
Sam Shirah resigned from SNCC in 1964 and volunteered for the Southern Mountain Project in Kentucky under the auspices of the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF). He later worked as a labor organizer with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and with Levi-Strauss.
Sam had two children with Elizabeth Khrone, whom he married in 1965. They were divorced in 1969 and he married Benita Crow in 1975. He died in Bearsville, New York, in 1980, and is interred in Memory Hill Cemetery in Dothan, Alabama.
The Samuel C. Shirah, Jr., Papers contain numerous newspaper articles and journal articles dating from 1962 until 1999. Included also are a number of letters both to and from Sam, FBI files relating to two imprisonments, several SNCC publications, and various related newsletters and journals. Although Sam Shirah died in 1980, his mother, Mrs. Oneita Shirah, continued to collect materials pertaining to the Civil Rights era through 1999, and some of these are included in this collection.
The collection consists of three scrapbooks and a section of general related items. The scrapbooks arrived in three-ring binders; items were removed from the binders according to archival procedure. Loose newspaper clippings were photocopied onto acid-free paper for preservation purposes.
The collection is divided into four parts:
Scrapbook No. 1 consists mainly of items related to the Freedom March in which Sam Shirah participated following the murder of mail carrier/freedom walker William Moore. These include copies of newspaper articles, a SNCC Southern Patriot, photocopies of images from Charles Moore's Powerful Days, Sam's letters from Kilby Prison to his family, their letters to him, and letters of family support from others.
Scrapbook No. 2 holds photocopies of Sam Shirah's FBI files from Danville, Virginia, and the Toddle House incident in Atlanta, Georgia. It also contains a biography of Sam written by his sister, Dr. Sue Shirah Sands; an article written by Sam about the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing and a photocopy of an image of Sam at the funeral of the four children killed on that occasion; a SNCC report on the events in Danville, Virginia (and photocopy of same); a transcript of a radio interview with Sam Shirah; and an excerpt of an oral history interview of Sheila Michaels in reference to the Toddle House incident.
Scrapbook No. 3 contains SNCC pamphlets, the SNCC constitution, a sampling of SNCC's The Student Voice, copies of The Southern Patriot published by the Southern Conference Educational Fund, and photocopies of sundry newspaper and journal articles, along with a photocopy of the comic book "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story."
The last section consists of the manuscript of Mary Stanton's book, Freedom Walk, photocopies of various newspaper and journal articles, and a September 17, 1963, copy of The Methodist Christian Advocate.
This collection should be of interest to researchers of Civil Rights activities of 1963-1964 - particularly the Freedom March of 1963, those events taking place in and around Birmingham, Alabama, the happenings in Danville, Virginia, and the White Folks Project on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1964. Mary Stanton's book Freedom Walk, alone, gives quite complete details of William Moore's aborted "walk" and the attempts that followed by others such as Sam Shirah.
M 405 Moore (Charles) Civil Rights Photograph Portfolio