Timothy Mays was a former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) worker and member of the Black Panthers in Lowndes County, Alabama. He became famous to the world on March 7, 1965 in Selma, Alabama. Mays was among the civil rights marchers who set out that day to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge and were beaten and tear gassed by Alabama State Troopers. News cameras were there when a State Trooper clubbed and knocked down Mays, who was carrying an American flag, which he kept aloft throughout the entire violent episode of the attempted march. "A trooper knocked me down, but I wouldn't drop the flag," he said. "I held on to it. My intention was to keep that flag until I died." Despite offers to buy the American flag for as much as $50,000, Mays would not sell it for any price. Instead, he promised to donate the flag to the Selma-Montgomery Historic Trail Interpretive Center now being built in Lowndes County.
Timothy Mays died on Wednesday, July 8, at 8:00 a.m. from complications relating to his injuries in a car crash two years ago. He was sixty-one years old.
Timothy Mays was born in White Hall, in Lowndes County, Alabama. His mother, Mary Francis Mays, was a pillar of the Civil Rights Movement in Lowndes County. Timothy Mays was a SNCC worker in Mississippi and then went on to work in Pike, County in Troy, Alabama, where US Representative and former SNCC Chairman John Lewis is from. Mays worked in the Tuskegee Institute Community Education Project (TICEP) while a student there. Mays was also a member of the Black Panthers community self defense unit, where he served as co-chairman of security operations, formulating plans concerning the defense of homes in case of attack by the Ku Klux Klan.
Targeted by Klansmen to be murdered, Mays was shot at on a number of occasions. Mays' mother was one of the people who lived in Tent City, a settlement on Black-owned property, near Route 80 in Lowndes County, formed in 1965 for sharecroppers who were kicked off their land for voter registration activity. Timothy Mays worked to make sure Tent City inhabitants got fed and helped them find new housing. He also worked on other, similar projects to help Blacks who were evicted from their land.
Timothy Mays was a close and trusted friend of Stokely Carmichael. Between the time that Carmichael left SNCC in 1967 and when he moved to Africa in 1969, he made secret return trips to Lowndes County. When he came into town, Carmichael always traveled with Mays. While they were both in SNCC together, Carmichael regularly deposited copies of his papers with Mays for safekeeping.
Timothy Mays represented himself in civil rights lawsuits on a number of occasions and won each time. During the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, there were student demonstrations at Alabama State University in Montgomery. Governor Wallace ordered Mays expelled from Alabama State for his participation in the demonstrations. Timothy Mays won a suit on his own behalf to be readmitted into the university, where he subsequently finished his Bachelors degree. More recently Timothy Mays represented himself in a discrimination suit after he was fired from Department of Transportation. Mays won, getting his job back and was awarded back pay, which he had not received before his death. After he won his job back, Mays was transferred to the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel, where he was working until this week.
Former Lowndes County, Alabama SNCC worker Scott B. Smith said, "Timothy was a man before his time in Montgomery." Mays did not believe that the Black church establishment in Montgomery had the interests of the people at heart. He frequently came up with his own ideas for civil rights work, which he pursued independently. When Hyundai was looking for a factory location in the South, it was Mays who spoke with the company's president and convinced him to put the plant in Montgomery. The state of Alabama held a banquet honoring Mays for his contribution to improving its economy.
"Timothy was a walking historical dictionary who pursued civil rights even until his death," Smith said.
FUNERAL INFORMATION (UPDATE):
- Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, July 13, 2005 at Bell's Funeral Home in dowtown Haynesville, AL (near the post office). Viewing of the body will be from 10-11 a.m.
- After the fueral there will be mixing and some food (prepared by Timothy Mays' mother, Mary Francis Mays), at the White Hall City Hall and Community Center.
This obituary was based on interviews with Scott B. Smith and Linda Dehnad and the following news reports:
- Civil rights activist Mays dies at age 61 (Montgomery Advertiser)
- Timothy Mays: Civil Rights Activist Dies at Age 61 (National Park Service)
View recent video of Timothy Mays speaking about Bloody Sunday here.
UPDATE 7/14: Additional details about Tent City (general location and year of formation) added in paragraph four.