The Ellwangers’ Legacy Of Fighting For Justice
On Sunday, September 15, 1963, a bomb planted by a White supremacist tore through the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The father of one of the four girls killed by the bomb, Denise McNair, was the parishioner of a young Lutheran minister: Rev. Joe Ellwanger. Rev. Ellwanger was one of the pastors who conducted the funeral of Denise McNair, along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Joe Ellwanger and Dr. King would cross paths many times during the Civil Rights Movement, including when Rev. Ellwanger led the first march of White Alabamians through the streets of Selma in support of voting rights. The demonstration of the Concerned White Citizens took place on March 6, 1965—the day before Bloody Sunday.
One year later, Rev. Ellwanger’s younger brother David—a lawyer, not a pastor—ran for the Alabama State Senate seat in Selma to unseat a staunch segregationist. The New York Times trumpeted that this “young white liberal” had a chance to unseat the incumbent, thanks to the impact of the Voting Rights Act his brother had helped pass. David was also no stranger to the civil rights movement—as a student at the University of Alabama in 1961, he had been placed on a hit list by the Ku Klux Klan, prompting the president of the university to place David under 24-hour police protection. The crime he had committed in the eyes of the KKK? Organizing and participating in an integrated Bible study.
For as long as he can remember, Jay Ellwanger wanted to make a difference in the lives of people who needed it. Jay was inspired by the family history passed down by his father and his uncle. Ellwanger Law was founded on that bedrock principle: when it comes to matters of discrimination and civil rights, it’s not enough to stand on the sidelines and leave the hard work to others.
The Birmingham News, March 27, 1965: “Preparedness aided FBI in slaying” and “State may press for murder charges”