In 1961, less than one percent of black Americans were registered to vote in Dallas County, Alabama. In 1963, organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began to rally support for a voter-registration project, and because of their efforts they were attacked and almost killed by the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned racial discrimination in voting rights, the Dallas County sheriff—along with what Steven Kasher describes as the “volunteer posse of over a hundred men…carrying guns, whips, clubs, and electric cattle prods”—used cruel harassment and violence to break up meetings and to deter any blacks attempting to register to vote.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Selma, Alabama on January 2, 1965, the office for voter registration was open a scant two days per month, and the few blacks who were able to arrive to register were given a lengthy battery of tests and paperwork. At a mass meeting on voting rights, King addressed the crowd:
At the rate they are letting us register now it will take a hundred and three years to register all of the fifteen thousand Negroes in Dallas County who are qualified to vote. . . . But we don’t have that long to wait. . . . Today marks the beginning of a determined, organized, mobilized campaign to get the right to vote everywhere in Alabama. . . . Our cry to the State of Alabama is a simple one: Give us the ballot. . . . We are not on our knees begging for the ballot. We are demanding the ballot.
Steven Kasher, the author of The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68, published by Abbeville Press, details the history of the Alabama Project to protect federal voting rights, and showcases some of the most emotionally affecting photographs from the three attempts to march from Selma to Alabama’s capitol, Montgomery. The first two marches were stopped by brutal acts of police violence, but that did not stop the resolve of the brave citizens determined to secure and protect voting rights for all Americans. The third and final march, from March 21-25, 1965, was a success: the Voting Rights Act was put into law on August 6, 1965, and, as Kasher affirms: “Southern politics was radically changed.”
To celebrate Black History Month, we’re offering a discount on The Civil Rights Movement. Click here and use code CIVIL RIGHTS 2013 at checkout to reduce the price to $25, a savings of over 40% on the list price. Please be sure to click the “redeem coupon” button after you enter code CIVIL RIGHTS 2013 to apply your discount. The code is valid through February 28th.