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The Selma March and
the Voting Rights Act
The Selma Campaign
Sheriff Jim Clark arrests two demonstrators who displayed placards on the steps of
the federal building in Selma, 1963.
The face of white supremacy in Dallas County,
Sheriff Jim Clark worked to repress movement
efforts to register Black voters using tactics of
intimidation, as well as threats and acts of
brutal violence. In one notorious incident, Clark
and his deputies turned cattle prods on Black
protesters, forcing them to march until some
youths collapsed or vomited.
In Clark’s 2007 obituary, the New York Times
wrote, “A fleshy-faced bear of a man who stood
6-foot-2 and weighed 220 pounds, Mr. Clark
strode through the civil rights era wearing a
lapel button emblazoned with a single word:
‘Never.’A billy club, pistol and cattle prod
often dangled from his belt...He told The
Montgomery Advertiser last year, ‘Basically, I’d
do the same thing today if I had to do it all over
again.’”
Selma Times Journal,
June 1963
In February 1965, SNCC reported on the near total disenfranchisement
of Black voters in Alabama’s “Black belt”:
The majority of the residents of Dallas County are Negroes (57%), the minority white.
But only 0.9% of the eligible Negroes are registered to vote, according to the Civil
Rights Commission Report on Voting, 1961. Registration of eligible whites is 64%.
Adjoining Wilcox County has never had a Negro voter, although 78% of the county’s
population is Negro. Lowndes County, also bordering Dallas County, has never had a
Negro voter.
Though SNCC had been organizing in Dallas County, the home of
Selma, for nearly a year and a half, the local Dallas County Voter’s
League invited the SCLC to help lead the movement after a local judge
issued an injunction prohibiting gatherings of more than two people, a
clear attempt to end demonstrations. “We did not choose them” [in
Selma], Andrew Young of SCLC remembered, “they chose us.”
Activist Jimmie Lee Jackson, age 26, was shot
in Marion, Alabama, by an Alabama State
Trooper on February 18 while trying to defend
his mother from a police attack and died eight
days later. He had been marching to protest the
arrest of another civil rights activist. Many
leading figures of the movement gathered for
his funeral.
Protesters planned a 54-mile march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery where
they intended to meet with avowed segregationist Governor George Wallace to demand
protection for voting rights and, specifically, to call attention to the violence routinely
utilized to disenfranchise blacks Alabamians in places like Selma. The immediate impetus
for the march was Jimmie Lee Jackson’s murder a few weeks earlier.
In eulogizing John Lewis in July 2020, President Barack
Obama described the role of the civil rights icon, a native
of Alabama, in the Selma campaign:
“At the ripe old age of 25, John was asked to lead the
march from Selma to Montgomery. He was warned that
Governor Wallace had ordered troopers to use violence.
But he…and others led them across that bridge anyway.
And we’ve all seen the film and the footage and the
photographs... And you look at those pictures and John
looks so young and he’s small in stature. Looking every
bit that shy, serious child that his mother had raised and
yet, he is full of purpose…”
“Bloody Sunday”
(7 Mar 1965)
Obama continued, “And we know what happened to the marchers that day. Their bones were cracked by
billy clubs, their eyes and lungs choked with tear gas. As they knelt to pray, which made their heads even
easier targets, and John was struck in the skull. And he thought he was going to die, surrounded by the
sight of young Americans gagging, and bleeding, and trampled, victims in their own country of
state-sponsored violence.”
“And the thing is, I imagine initially that day,
the troopers thought that they had won the
battle. You can imagine the conversations they
had afterwards. You can imagine them saying,
‘Yeah, we showed them.’ They figured they’d
turned the protesters back over the bridge; that
they’d …preserved a system that denied the
basic humanity of their fellow citizens. Except
this time, there were some cameras there. This
time, the world saw what happened, bore
witness to Black Americans who were asking for
nothing more than to be treated like other
Americans. Who were not asking for special
treatment, just the equal treatment promised to
them a century before, and almost another
century before that.”
--President Barack Obama,
Eulogy for John Lewis (30 Jul 2020)
Two days after Bloody Sunday (on what became known as “Turnaround Tuesday”), James Reeb, a Unitarian minister who
had traveled from Boston to Selma in response to King’s call for ministers around the country to join the march, was beaten
by white segregationists after dining in an integrated restaurant. He died of his injuries two days later. On March 15,
President Johnson introduced a draft of a federal voting rights bill, and invoked Reeb as a martyr for the cause. In eulogizing
him, Dr. King stated, “James Reeb symbolizes the forces of good will in our nation. He demonstrated the conscience of the
nation. He was an attorney for the defense of the innocent in the court of world opinion. He was a witness to the truth that
men of different races and classes might live, eat, and work together as brothers” (King, 15 March 1965).
On their third attempt, marchers were successful in crossing the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge,
ironically named for a Confederate general and KKK leader. They reached the Alabama capital
building in Montgomery, 25,000 marchers strong, five days after embarking (25 March 1965).
“…Somebody’s asking, ‘When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of
Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of
shame to reign supreme among the children of men?’ Somebody’s asking, ‘When will
the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night,
plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will
justice be crucified, and truth bear it?’ I come to say to you this afternoon, however
difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth
crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’
How long? Not long, because ‘you shall reap what you sow.’ How long? Not long,
because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
On the steps of the state capital, King delivered a
rousing speech known as “How Long? Not Long!”:
Viola Liuzzo, a longtime
labor and civil rights activist
and mother of five from
Detroit, responded to King’s
call after Bloody Sunday
urging people to come to
Selma to support the
movement. Driving with a
Black male volunteer to
transport demonstrators
between Selma and
Montgomery after the
march, Liuzzo was shot and
killed by a passing car of
Klan members. Among them
was an FBI informant.
Stokely Carmichael and the LCFO
One of the original Freedom Riders, Carmichael worked in
1962 and 1963 canvassing voters in Greenwood, Mississippi,
and participated in the Mississippi Challenge in 1964, an
experience that convinced him that Black political power was
the key to Black liberation. During the summer of 1965, he
worked on a voter registration campaign in notoriously violent
Lowndes County, Alabama, situated between Selma and
Montgomery. The Lowndes County Freedom Organization
(LCFO) was formed as part of SNCC’s joint efforts with local
organizers, representing a third-party alternative to the
Alabama Democratic party, headed by George Wallace.
When SNCC arrived in Lowndes County in 1965, there was
one registered Black voter, LCFO co-founder John Hulett,
though the county’s population was 80 percent Black. The
following year, as a result of LCFO efforts, the majority of the
county’s registered voters were Black. In 1970, this shift
resulted in the election of Hulett as sheriff.
Source: SNCC Digital Gateway
Above, Carmichael canvasses in Alabama, 1965.
Lowndes County Freedom
Organization (LCFO)
Voting Rights Act of 1965
• Ensured minority registration and voting rights by providing for federal oversight
of elections in states with a history of voter disfranchisement.
• “Preclearance” provision required such states to obtain approval by the Department
of Justice before enacting any changes in state voting laws.
• Suspended use of literacy tests and other voter-qualification tests.
• Provided for federal lawsuits to stop poll taxes, already prohibited in 1964 by the
twenty-fourth amendment.
• Perhaps the greatest achievement of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Driven to action by the ugly events of Bloody
Sunday five months earlier, President Johnson
signed the Voting Rights Act into law in Aug 1965
to enforce the fifteenth amendment’s guarantee of
the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or
previous condition of servitude” in Southern states
that had long disenfranchised Black citizens.
Voting Rights Act overturned by Supreme Court in
Shelby County v. Holder (2013)
• In a 5-4 decision, the court overturned Sec. 5
of the VRA, which required jurisdictions with
a history of discriminatory voting laws to
obtain approval (“preclearance”) from the
Department of Justice before changing voting
laws.
• According to the nonpartisan Brennan Center
for Justice, “The decision in Shelby County
opened the floodgates to laws restricting
voting throughout the United States. The
effects were immediate. Within 24 hours of the
ruling, Texas announced that it would
implement a strict photo ID law. Two other
states, Mississippi and Alabama, also began to
enforce photo ID laws that had previously
been barred because of federal preclearance.”
“Throwing out preclearance when
it has worked and is continuing to
work to stop discriminatory
changes is like throwing away your
umbrella in a rainstorm because
you are not getting wet.”
--Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
dissenting from the majority opinion in
the Shelby decision
“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can
redeem the soul of America by getting in what
I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting
and participating in the democratic process are
key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent
change agent you have in a democratic society.
You must use it because it is not guaranteed.
You can lose it.”
--John Lewis, “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of
America” (2020), published on the day of his funeral.
Ongoing Efforts to Keep American Citizens from Voting
(aka “voter suppression”)
• Voter identification laws that disproportionately impact poor communities and voters who do not
have a driver’s license.
• Felon disenfranchisement laws (some states prohibit anyone who has ever been convicted of
certain types of felonies from ever voting again, e.g. MS, AL, AZ).
• State requirements that all court fines and fees be paid in order to vote (e.g. FL).
• Closure of polling places (esp. in poor or minority neighborhoods), requiring voters to travel
farther to cast ballot.
• Limiting voting hours and early voting (esp. in poor or minority neighborhoods) making it more
difficult for working people to cast ballots.
• Voter roll purges that remove registered voters and require them to reregister.
• Efforts to undermine the security or accessibility of voting by mail (e.g. a new TX voter ID law led
to nearly 40 percent of mail-in ballots being rejected during 2022 primary elections bc the ID used
to vote did not match the ID used to register).
• Encouraging self-appointed “poll watchers” to monitor/intimidate voters at the polls.
• Rhetoric casting doubts on the legitimacy of the electoral process.
**Voter suppression efforts can take multiple forms, both legal and illegal.
(2020)
Felon Disenfranchisement
3.16.23 The Selma March and the Voting Rights Act.pptx
3.16.23 The Selma March and the Voting Rights Act.pptx

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3.16.23 The Selma March and the Voting Rights Act.pptx

  • 1. The Selma March and the Voting Rights Act
  • 2. The Selma Campaign Sheriff Jim Clark arrests two demonstrators who displayed placards on the steps of the federal building in Selma, 1963.
  • 3. The face of white supremacy in Dallas County, Sheriff Jim Clark worked to repress movement efforts to register Black voters using tactics of intimidation, as well as threats and acts of brutal violence. In one notorious incident, Clark and his deputies turned cattle prods on Black protesters, forcing them to march until some youths collapsed or vomited. In Clark’s 2007 obituary, the New York Times wrote, “A fleshy-faced bear of a man who stood 6-foot-2 and weighed 220 pounds, Mr. Clark strode through the civil rights era wearing a lapel button emblazoned with a single word: ‘Never.’A billy club, pistol and cattle prod often dangled from his belt...He told The Montgomery Advertiser last year, ‘Basically, I’d do the same thing today if I had to do it all over again.’”
  • 5. In February 1965, SNCC reported on the near total disenfranchisement of Black voters in Alabama’s “Black belt”: The majority of the residents of Dallas County are Negroes (57%), the minority white. But only 0.9% of the eligible Negroes are registered to vote, according to the Civil Rights Commission Report on Voting, 1961. Registration of eligible whites is 64%. Adjoining Wilcox County has never had a Negro voter, although 78% of the county’s population is Negro. Lowndes County, also bordering Dallas County, has never had a Negro voter. Though SNCC had been organizing in Dallas County, the home of Selma, for nearly a year and a half, the local Dallas County Voter’s League invited the SCLC to help lead the movement after a local judge issued an injunction prohibiting gatherings of more than two people, a clear attempt to end demonstrations. “We did not choose them” [in Selma], Andrew Young of SCLC remembered, “they chose us.”
  • 6. Activist Jimmie Lee Jackson, age 26, was shot in Marion, Alabama, by an Alabama State Trooper on February 18 while trying to defend his mother from a police attack and died eight days later. He had been marching to protest the arrest of another civil rights activist. Many leading figures of the movement gathered for his funeral.
  • 7. Protesters planned a 54-mile march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery where they intended to meet with avowed segregationist Governor George Wallace to demand protection for voting rights and, specifically, to call attention to the violence routinely utilized to disenfranchise blacks Alabamians in places like Selma. The immediate impetus for the march was Jimmie Lee Jackson’s murder a few weeks earlier.
  • 8. In eulogizing John Lewis in July 2020, President Barack Obama described the role of the civil rights icon, a native of Alabama, in the Selma campaign: “At the ripe old age of 25, John was asked to lead the march from Selma to Montgomery. He was warned that Governor Wallace had ordered troopers to use violence. But he…and others led them across that bridge anyway. And we’ve all seen the film and the footage and the photographs... And you look at those pictures and John looks so young and he’s small in stature. Looking every bit that shy, serious child that his mother had raised and yet, he is full of purpose…”
  • 9. “Bloody Sunday” (7 Mar 1965) Obama continued, “And we know what happened to the marchers that day. Their bones were cracked by billy clubs, their eyes and lungs choked with tear gas. As they knelt to pray, which made their heads even easier targets, and John was struck in the skull. And he thought he was going to die, surrounded by the sight of young Americans gagging, and bleeding, and trampled, victims in their own country of state-sponsored violence.”
  • 10. “And the thing is, I imagine initially that day, the troopers thought that they had won the battle. You can imagine the conversations they had afterwards. You can imagine them saying, ‘Yeah, we showed them.’ They figured they’d turned the protesters back over the bridge; that they’d …preserved a system that denied the basic humanity of their fellow citizens. Except this time, there were some cameras there. This time, the world saw what happened, bore witness to Black Americans who were asking for nothing more than to be treated like other Americans. Who were not asking for special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them a century before, and almost another century before that.” --President Barack Obama, Eulogy for John Lewis (30 Jul 2020)
  • 11.
  • 12. Two days after Bloody Sunday (on what became known as “Turnaround Tuesday”), James Reeb, a Unitarian minister who had traveled from Boston to Selma in response to King’s call for ministers around the country to join the march, was beaten by white segregationists after dining in an integrated restaurant. He died of his injuries two days later. On March 15, President Johnson introduced a draft of a federal voting rights bill, and invoked Reeb as a martyr for the cause. In eulogizing him, Dr. King stated, “James Reeb symbolizes the forces of good will in our nation. He demonstrated the conscience of the nation. He was an attorney for the defense of the innocent in the court of world opinion. He was a witness to the truth that men of different races and classes might live, eat, and work together as brothers” (King, 15 March 1965).
  • 13. On their third attempt, marchers were successful in crossing the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, ironically named for a Confederate general and KKK leader. They reached the Alabama capital building in Montgomery, 25,000 marchers strong, five days after embarking (25 March 1965).
  • 14. “…Somebody’s asking, ‘When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?’ Somebody’s asking, ‘When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?’ I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’ How long? Not long, because ‘you shall reap what you sow.’ How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” On the steps of the state capital, King delivered a rousing speech known as “How Long? Not Long!”:
  • 15. Viola Liuzzo, a longtime labor and civil rights activist and mother of five from Detroit, responded to King’s call after Bloody Sunday urging people to come to Selma to support the movement. Driving with a Black male volunteer to transport demonstrators between Selma and Montgomery after the march, Liuzzo was shot and killed by a passing car of Klan members. Among them was an FBI informant.
  • 16. Stokely Carmichael and the LCFO One of the original Freedom Riders, Carmichael worked in 1962 and 1963 canvassing voters in Greenwood, Mississippi, and participated in the Mississippi Challenge in 1964, an experience that convinced him that Black political power was the key to Black liberation. During the summer of 1965, he worked on a voter registration campaign in notoriously violent Lowndes County, Alabama, situated between Selma and Montgomery. The Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) was formed as part of SNCC’s joint efforts with local organizers, representing a third-party alternative to the Alabama Democratic party, headed by George Wallace. When SNCC arrived in Lowndes County in 1965, there was one registered Black voter, LCFO co-founder John Hulett, though the county’s population was 80 percent Black. The following year, as a result of LCFO efforts, the majority of the county’s registered voters were Black. In 1970, this shift resulted in the election of Hulett as sheriff. Source: SNCC Digital Gateway Above, Carmichael canvasses in Alabama, 1965.
  • 18. Voting Rights Act of 1965 • Ensured minority registration and voting rights by providing for federal oversight of elections in states with a history of voter disfranchisement. • “Preclearance” provision required such states to obtain approval by the Department of Justice before enacting any changes in state voting laws. • Suspended use of literacy tests and other voter-qualification tests. • Provided for federal lawsuits to stop poll taxes, already prohibited in 1964 by the twenty-fourth amendment. • Perhaps the greatest achievement of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Driven to action by the ugly events of Bloody Sunday five months earlier, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in Aug 1965 to enforce the fifteenth amendment’s guarantee of the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” in Southern states that had long disenfranchised Black citizens.
  • 19. Voting Rights Act overturned by Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) • In a 5-4 decision, the court overturned Sec. 5 of the VRA, which required jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting laws to obtain approval (“preclearance”) from the Department of Justice before changing voting laws. • According to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, “The decision in Shelby County opened the floodgates to laws restricting voting throughout the United States. The effects were immediate. Within 24 hours of the ruling, Texas announced that it would implement a strict photo ID law. Two other states, Mississippi and Alabama, also began to enforce photo ID laws that had previously been barred because of federal preclearance.”
  • 20. “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” --Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting from the majority opinion in the Shelby decision
  • 21. “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.” --John Lewis, “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of America” (2020), published on the day of his funeral.
  • 22. Ongoing Efforts to Keep American Citizens from Voting (aka “voter suppression”) • Voter identification laws that disproportionately impact poor communities and voters who do not have a driver’s license. • Felon disenfranchisement laws (some states prohibit anyone who has ever been convicted of certain types of felonies from ever voting again, e.g. MS, AL, AZ). • State requirements that all court fines and fees be paid in order to vote (e.g. FL). • Closure of polling places (esp. in poor or minority neighborhoods), requiring voters to travel farther to cast ballot. • Limiting voting hours and early voting (esp. in poor or minority neighborhoods) making it more difficult for working people to cast ballots. • Voter roll purges that remove registered voters and require them to reregister. • Efforts to undermine the security or accessibility of voting by mail (e.g. a new TX voter ID law led to nearly 40 percent of mail-in ballots being rejected during 2022 primary elections bc the ID used to vote did not match the ID used to register). • Encouraging self-appointed “poll watchers” to monitor/intimidate voters at the polls. • Rhetoric casting doubts on the legitimacy of the electoral process. **Voter suppression efforts can take multiple forms, both legal and illegal.

Editor's Notes

  1. https://content.wisconsinhistory.org/digital/collection/p15932coll2/id/67848/
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/07/us/07clark.html
  3. https://content.wisconsinhistory.org/digital/collection/p15932coll2/id/35338
  4. March 30 1965, Selma, Alabama- King and his wife lead a black voting rights march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery.
  5. “…Somebody’s asking, ‘When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?’ Somebody’s asking, ‘When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?’   I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’ How long? Not long, because ‘you shall reap what you sow.’ How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”