Voter Registration Tests & Protests:
Chapter 2: a series that chronicles the events in the Selma, Alabama area prior to Bloody Sunday and ending with the brutal attack by Klansmen on Viola Liuzzo.
A new voter registration test implemented a few months before the March 7th march to Montgomery was challenged by the U. S. Justice Department on January 15th. It was common for African-Americans to be tested when registering to vote and in some cases charged fees to register. When county and election officials made a mockery of the federal order, SNCC and civil rights workers intensified protests and demonstrations.
The new voter registration tests prompted civil rights workers to move on Marion (Perry County) and Selma. Nearly 2,500 people were getting arrested per week in the Dallas (Selma) County area primarily for attempting to register. Jimmie Lee Jackson (see post), was shot twice during an attack on protesters by the Alabama State Troopers on February 18th.
The difficulty in the voter registration test bordered on the ridiculous. Alabama Attorney General of the time, Richard Flowers, admitted the test was “rugged”, and “had every voter in Alabama passed this test, we would have the most intelligent electorate in the nation”.
The Justice Department had filed two previous suits one in ’61 and another in ’63 charging voter intimidation, and discrimination. The State responded with issuing a new voter registration test. This one had only 4 questions but with 100 variations. As a result, nearby Perry County registered only 2 blacks.
The SNCC (Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee) field worker that filed a report, and is the basis for this post, noted his interview with witnesses that aided the FBI agents that had taken notes from Sheriff Clark’s (Dallas County) Deputies for their arresting procedures when arresting SNCC workers. It was deemed illegal for taking food and drinks to blacks waiting in line registering to vote.
James Orange (October 29, 1942 – February 16, 2008), a school teacher was arrested. He was charged with “contributing to the delinquency of minors” for having teenagers helping in his efforts registering voters. Civil rights workers and SNCC volunteers feared Orange would be lynched so a large demonstration on the jail and courthouse in Marion (Perry County) was staged.
In another report, this one from Silas Norman and John Love, SNCC volunteers, reported that in Dallas County (Selma), one county from Perry County, Sheriff Clark and the Selma police chief routinely made a mockery of judge’s orders or rulings from the U.S. Justice Department. The 57% of eligible voters at this time were African- American, Federal district Court Judge Thomas, ruled that all blacks that intended to register would sign an “appearance book” and not made to wait in long lines. The rationale was if there wasn’t time to vote, the list would keep a potential voter’s “place in line”. Sheriff Clark devised a plan to would take so long that the nearly 3,000 blacks that planned to vote would never sign the “appearance book”. The plan was to limit the time the book was made available.
Large numbers of protesters were in Selma before and during the attack on protesters ending in the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson. They were students from Alabama colleges. Protesters challenged police actions with a large demonstration on February 18th. Late February 1965, just weeks before Bloody Sunday were tense times in the Selma.
The death of Jimmie Lee Jackson took 8 days. He was shot in Marion during the protests on February 18th. Some people, even doctors believed he could have survived the retaliation by the Alabama State Troopers but was treated poorly at the Marion hospital. Within just weeks the leadership of SNCC, including John Lewis, James Bevel (Birmingham Campaign in 1963) and Hosea Williams proposed to Rev. King a large demonstration. Namely the March to Montgomery.
SNCC field workers filed reports to document their actions and the response of law enforcement. These reports offer a unique in depth view into the events of those times.
Chapter 1 – Prison Camps
Source: SNCC College Campus Round Up – Feb 9, 1965