Frequently Asked Questions


What was the American Civil Rights Movement?

The American Civil Rights Movement, which came to prominence during the mid-1950, was a mass organized movement of faith-based, non-violent protest as a means of contesting racial segregation and discrimination in the United States. The movement was particularly vibrant in the south.


What was the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law on July 2 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, was a milestone achievement of the civil rights movement. It ended segregation in public spaces, including schools, and made employment based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin illegal. This act is considered by many to be the “most sweeping civil rights legislation since reconstruction”[1]


Why was there a need to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was liberating, Black Americans still faced many obstacles when it came to voting and registering to vote including, inter alia: a poll tax, literacy tests, harassment, intimidation, and/or physical violence. 


Why is Selma, Alabama important?

Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination was still prevalent throughout the United States. Selma was a place of continued prejudice and protest, particularly concerning voting rights.  The violence perpetuated by local police and state troopers was broadcast on televisions across the country, stunning the American populous and reinvigorating national sympathy for the civil rights movement to achieve its goals.


Who marched in Selma?

Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) initiated a march from Selma to Montgomery. After these initial protesters were met with violence, religious and civic leaders descended on Selma in response to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for solidarity.


Who were the individual and organizational leaders of Selma?

The initial march was led by John Lewis of the SNCC. As tension grew, Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy and other members of the SCLC increased their efforts in Selma. At the request of Dr. King, many faith-based leaders entered the struggle. Archbishop Iakovos, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, was the highest ranking clergyman among them.


What was the outcome of Selma?

As a result of the March on Selma, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and signed into law. On a personal level, many had their integrity challenged, having to choose between the safety of silence and possible retribution for taking a moral stance.


Was the Voting Rights Act of 1965 Successful?

In many respects, yes. In North Carolina, for example, only 15% of the black population was registered to vote in 1948 and by 1962 the percentage grew to 36%. One year after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the percentage increased to 50% and approximately 281,000 blacks voted.[2] In a broader scope, close to a million black voters were registered within 4 years of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.[3] The post 1966 elections saw a more than doubling of black elected officials in the south, from 72 to 159.[4]


What role did Christianity play in the Civil Rights Movement?

Within the black community, Black churches were a place where African Americans could congregate with relative freedom from southern white control and where political and social leadership for the black community grew.[5] Furthermore, the Civil Rights Movement was born out of the church, and its message and leadership were inspired and based on Christian principles. For many outside the direct movement, the church was the source of persuasion needed to realize the wrongs inflicted upon not only the African American community but all who have experienced discrimination because of their race, ethnicity, gender, or creed.


What is the Orthodox Church?

The Orthodox Church is the Church established by the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and traces its origin to Christ and the Apostles. Today, the Orthodox Church has roughly 300 million communicants worldwide. Constantinople (Istanbul) is considered the religious center of Orthodoxy, and His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is recognized as its spiritual leader. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is an Eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and is currently led by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios.


Has the Orthodox Church always taught equality?

From the time of Jesus Christ and the Apostles, the Orthodox Church has advocated for the oppressed and those against whom society has discriminated. This is primarily based on the Orthodox Church’s understanding of the Holy Eucharist as that which unites all who partake in the Body and Blood of Christ, but also, requires that we struggle to overcome our differences with our neighbors. For one to receive Holy Communion with God, therefore, s/he must be in communion with his/her neighbor irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, age, etc. This is clearly expressed in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond not free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). This early teaching of the Orthodox Church paved the way for future Church leaders to follow. For other a brief summary of the Orthodox Church’s response to discrimination, xenophobia, and ethnofiletism click here.


Who was Archbishop Iakovos?

Archbishop Iakovos served as the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America from April 1, 1959 until July 29, 1996. He was born on the island of Imbros (Gökçeada) on July 29, 1911 and died on April 10, 2005. He was known as a leader of the contemporary ecumenical movement for Christian unity, serving nine years as president of the World Council of Churches. He was also known as a champion of civil and human rights. Archbishop Iakovos walked alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma. On June 9, 1980 President Jimmy Carter awarded Archbishop Iakovos the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest civilian honor, in recognition of his efforts to promote civil rights and reconciliation among all people.


Why was Archbishop Iakovos so vested in the Civil Rights Movement?

Archbishop Iakovos was born into a minority and oppressed community under Ottoman rule, where he was treated as a “third-category citizen.”[6] Upon coming to the United States and seeing how the African-American community was treated, he related to their struggle and stood in solidarity alongside his brothers and sisters. He understood his presence and participation in the Civil Rights Movement as part of Lord’s calling to serve all people and to love them as images of God.


Why did Archbishop Iakovos participate in Selma?

Archbishop Iakovos had a personal connection with the Civil Rights Movement because of his own experience of discrimination in his homeland. Moreover, he responded to his friend Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to join him in Selma. Lastly, he was answering what he described as “a God-given call” for the Greek Orthodox Church, which has “never hesitated to fight…when it felt it must, for the rights of mankind.”[7]


Why was it important for Archbishop Iakovos to march in Selma?

For the nation, Archbishop Iakovos’ presence in Selma signified that the struggle to secure equal voting rights for all citizens of the United States of America was not limited only to the African-American community, but rather, a cause that crossed all racial, ethnic, and religious lines.


His exemplary leadership was also important for Greek Orthodox Christians. Early on in the history of Greeks in America, the Greek community was not often met with open arms. Indeed, Greeks were frequently considered “other” and treated harshly. Overtime, however, the Greek community became more integrated and eventually accepted into American society. For this reason, by the time of the Civil Rights Movement, there were many who feared that involvement in the Movement could lead to reprisal and a loss of acceptance within American society. Archbishop Iakovos’ actions reminded those who were comfortably established in American society that to truly secure one’s freedom one had to stand with the oppressed.


[1] "Public Opinion on Civil Rights: Reflections on the Civil Rights Act of 1964." Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. July 2, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2015.

[2] "Voting Rights Act of 1965." North Carolina History Project :. Accessed February 19, 2015.

[3] Guide to U.S. Elections, 6th ed., vol. 1 (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2010), p. 33.

[4] David J. Garrow, Protest at Selma: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Voting Rights Act of 1956 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), p. 190.

[5] DeYoung, Curtiss. "The Role of the Black Church in the Civil Rights Movement." January 1, 2011. Accessed February 17, 2015.

[6] "Iakovos: A Legacy." YouTube video, 2:17, posted by “GreekOrthodoxChurch,” October 14, 2009,

[7] Varlamos, Michael. “His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos & The Civil Rights Movement: Selma, 1965” (Academic Article, St. Clair Shores, Michigan, 2014), Pg. 4