In the immediate days and months before the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965 (Bloody Sunday), an extensive and concentrated voting rights effort was implemented in Dallas County (Selma) and the surrounding counties in Alabama. Local law enforcement and the Alabama State Troopers responded with unprecedented retaliation.
Representatives of primarily from SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), high school students and other volunteers, were arrested at an alarming rate. More than 3,000 men, woman, and children were jailed for peacefully marching to the courthouses and conducting voter registration drives.
For the record, Lowndes County, the county east and adjacent to Dallas County (on the March route), was 81% African-American with zero blacks registered to vote in 1965. During this time, voter registration coordinator, James Orange was jailed. Demonstrators in February feared that Orange would be lynched. The attack of the peaceful assembly resulted in the death of Jimmy Lee Jackson. The response of local law enforcement and the Alabama State Troopers was extreme. Jail conditions at that time need to be noted. This chapter of “Selma, Notes From The Field”, addresses those conditions and some of the events that lead to the March.
To handle the increase in the number of citizens to be jailed, a camp system was initiated. According to Ralph Featherstone, SNCC field secretary, the camp system was part of an extensive network of small state prisons in isolated rural areas. These temporary prisons were used to incarcerate the “over flow” from the local jails, with protesters, voter registration workers and demonstrators. They were ordered to “hard labor” and chain gangs. Transportation to the remote prisons on buses where over crowded and unsanitary conditions, were herded onto the buses with cattle prods. Chain gangs provided free labor to the state. The shackled civil rights workers, cleared roads, cut timber, drained swamps, work similar to those during slavery times.
Before civil rights workers were jailed, all beds, blankets and mattresses were removed from the jail. Over flowing commodes because there were so many incarcerated, had to sleep on the floor. The conditions were unbearable.
They jailed slept on the concrete floors with no heat and no blankets. Fed beans and corn bread twice a day. The only variation in the meal was the type of bean with corn bread for that day. However, some of the remote prisons allowed local churches to bring food to the incarcerated.
Most of the civil rights workers were held for three days. Then transported back to the local county courthouses where they were released. Usually, it took all day to be processed for release, set free by 4:30 p.m.
The March to Montgomery was a direct response to the treatment of civil rights workers in the immediate months in the area. The jailed and murdered workers was more than leaders of the “movement” could take. Many new leaders would emerge during the next few weeks. Chapter 1, sets the stage and describes the intensity and resolve of the competing forces in the area.
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; - Founded in 1960. Began with an $800 grant from the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference). Chairmen included Marion Barry (later Mayor of Washington, D.C.), Charles F. McDew, John Lewis (currently U.S. Congressional Representative), Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown and Phil Hutchings. Alabama County Maps; website