The More You Know: A History of Black Political Power & Social Movement in Dallas, Lowndes, Perry, and Wilcox Counties, Alabama

51e442_fa6a39c688374797aa7eb6acdddfe4061860: In Dallas County, there were 27,760 enslaved African Americans (more than in any other Alabama county), 80 “free colored,” and 7,785 white people; in Lowndes County: 19,340, 14, and 8,362; in Perry County: 18,206, 39, and 9,479; and in Wilcox County: 17,797, 26, and 6.795.

January 11, 1861: Alabama joined the Confederate States of America.  The Civil War began in April.

April 1865: Shortly before the end of the Civil War, Union forces arrived in Selma, burned much of it, and defeated Confederate troops led by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (later the founder of the Ku Klux Klan).

December 6, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was ratified, making unconstitutional slavery and “involuntary servitude,” except for condemned criminals.

1867: African Americans in Lowndes County held a series of political meetings and about 4,000 men registered to vote.  Former slave, farmer, and merchant, Benjamin Sterling Turner, was elected the Tax Collector of Dallas County.

1868: Armed black men assembled at the courthouse in Hayneville (Lowndes County) and demanded that the white men in local offices who had supported the Confederacy step down from their positions as Congress had ruled they should do.  Eventually, all either stepped down or were defeated by black voters.

1868: Some white men in Lowndes County shot and killed an African American simply for showing up at a Democratic meeting without an invitation.

July 9, 1868: The Fourteenth Amendment granted to all Americans equal protection of the laws and due process of law.  This made the denial of civil rights to African Americans unconstitutional.

February 3, 1870: The Fifteenth Amendment established that any action taken to restrict (male) citizens’ right to vote because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” was unconstitutional.

1870: Rev. Mansfield Tyler, an ex-slave from Lowndes County, and Jeremiah Haralson, an ex-slave preacher from Selma, were elected to the Alabama House of Representatives.  Benjamin Turner, from Dallas County, was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, where he advocated for racially mixed schools and financial reparations for former slaves.

1871: A new Alabama constitution took the right to vote away from African Americans.

1872: James T. Rapier, an ex-slave from Lowndes County, was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives.

1874: Jeremiah Haralson was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives.

1875: Hugh A. Carson, an ex-slave from Lowndes County, was elected a delegate to the Alabama Constitutional Convention and then, along with William Gaskin, became a state representative.  White Democrats regained control of the Alabama state government and expelled any remaining black legislators, including Gaskin and Carson.  Ex-Confederates replaced them.

1880: On election day, when black voters in Lowndes County outnumbered white voters, Democrat Walter L. Bragg shouted from the courthouse steps, “Yes, boys, stuff the ballot boxes….Lowndes County must be cleaned.”  Previously, Democrats had lost elections by 3.000 votes; this year they won by 1,600.

1882: After a number of years using voter fraud and terrorism to oppose black citizens gaining political power, white Democrats took over all of the offices in Lowndes County.

1900: There were over five thousand black registered voters in Lowndes County.

1901: Alabama changed the state constitution to require a $1.50 cumulative poll tax (covering earlier years after a man had turned twenty-one), a literacy test, and proof of good moral character to vote except for ex-Confederate soldiers and their descendants.  The number of black registered voters in the Black Belt dropped to about 1% of the adult population.

1903: Federal investigators were run out of Lowndes County at gunpoint when they tried to investigate the ways in which Sheriff J. W. Dixon was abusing black prisoners leased to white employers.  When Dillard Freeman tried to leave the county to see his sick brother, for example, Dixon beat him brutally and then chained him to his employer’s bed.  Warren Reese, a federal prosecutor, stated that Lowndes County was the worst perpetrator of convict leasing.

1918: Charles J. Adams, a World War I veteran and railroad worker in Selma, established one of the two first Alabama chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Mid-1920s: Charles J. Adams and others in Selma organized the Dallas County Voters League.

1936: Amelia Platts Boynton, Samuel W. Boynton, the Rev. Frederick Reece, Charles J. Adams and others brought back to life the Dallas County Voters League.

1939-1971: P. C. “Lummie” Jenkins became the sheriff for Wilcox County.  The white community considered him a witty storyteller who did not need to use a gun.  The black community thought of him as the biggest threat to their security in the county.

194?: A new bridge across the Alabama River into Selma was named for Edmund Pettus, a Confederate General and leader of the local Ku Klux Klan, who lived in Selma from 1858 until his death in 1907.

1944: In Smith v. Allwright, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that primary elections held by political parties that allowed only white people to vote (meaning the Democratic Party in the South) were unconstitutional.

1945: The Boswell Amendment to the Alabama Constitution allowed country registrars to deny the right to register to vote to anyone unable to “understand and explain” satisfactorily any section of the U. S. Constitution.

1946: The Alabama Constitution was amended to require that applicants to register to vote be able to copy and explain a portion of the state charter.

January 1952–May 1954: With the support of the Dallas County Voters League, 74 African Americans registered to vote.

1953–1957: After a series of rapes and attempted rapes in Dallas County of white females, including a daughter of the mayor of Selma, by an unidentified African American, William Earl Fikes was arrested.  After protracted questioning, Fikes was sentenced to 99 years for one rape, but prominent white citizens of Selma decided the sentence was too lenient and demanded another trial for other charges.  The second jury sentenced him to death.  With the help of NAACP lawyers and widespread support from the African American community, the verdict was appealed. The U. S. Supreme Court ruled in 1957 that the pressure put on Fikes when he was questioned meant that his confession should not stand.  He was not released from prison, however, until 1971.  During the trial in Selma, African American families brought their children to see black attorneys and witnesses standing up to white officials and many joined the NAACP for the first time.  The case led to stronger unity for justice in the black community and more opposition to rights for African Americans in the white community.

June 1956: The state of Alabama banned the N.A.A.C.P., leading the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and other black ministers in Birmingham to found the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR).

January 23, 1957: Four members of the Ku Klux Klan forced Willie Edwards Jr., an African American truck driver, to jump off a bridge in Montgomery County; his body was later found downstream.  They had misidentified Edwards as a man they believed was dating a white woman.

195?: With the support of the Dallas County Voters League, Marie Foster led Citizenship Classes.  She later stated that “several Black people were killed during this period.”

1958: Jimmy Wilson was sentenced to death by a jury in Marion (Perry County) for stealing $1.95.  He received support from all over the world.  Although the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the sentence, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles complained to Governor Jim Folsom about the damage the case was doing to the international reputation of the United States and Folsom granted Wilson clemency.

1960: After voter fraud gave an election to the whites, black people formed the Lowndes County Christian Movement for Human Rights.

1961: When Lonnie Brown read an article in the local paper saying that Negroes did not want to vote, he and a few others established the Wilcox County Civic and Progressive League (WCCPI).  At that time, there were no blacks registered in Wilcox and Lowndes Counties, even though their population was about 80% African American.

Summer 1962: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizers Bernard Lafayette and Colia Liddell Lafayette arrived in Selma, having volunteered after Jim Foreman said it was too hard a place to convince people to vote.  At that time 156 out of the 5,000 eligible black residents were registered.

January 1963: James Austin, a young man who had talked with Colia Lafayette, started voter education classes, with the assistance of Amelia Boynton and Marie Foster.

May 14, 1963: The Lafayettes combined a memorial service for Samuel Boynton with a voting workshop and rally.  The 350 people had to sing in the church until about 1AM to wait for Sheriff Jim Clark, his posse, and other members of a white mob stopped circling the church.  According to the local paper, “most of the attendees were teenagers from Hudson High School.”

June 12, 1963: NAACP leader Medgar Evers was murdered by a Klansman in Jackson, Mississippi and Bernard Lafayette was beaten almost to death by a white supremacist who had pretended to need help with his car.  He ran off when a black neighbor came out with a shotgun.

June-December 1963: Hudson High School students, too young to register to vote, became more willing than their parents to demonstrate and go to jail.  Whenever police drove students back to the high school, they walked out the rear door and returned to the meeting.  The jails were sometimes so crowded that they had to take turns standing up during the night.  Jackie McCracken said that when a policeman struck him on his rear end with an electric cattle prod, it “hurt beyond description.”  The white school officials refused to give diplomas to some of the demonstrators.  Thirty-two teachers who became involved lost their jobs.

October 7, 1963: During a Freedom Day march in Selma on one of the two days of the month when voter registration was possible, 350 African Americans lined up, but only forty were allowed to apply.  Police assaulted some of them, including two SNCC workers giving water to people in line, while two Justice Department lawyers and two FBI agents watched.

1963-1965: The Justice Department filed four lawsuits against discriminatory voting laws in Dallas County, and the number of black registered voters increased from 167 to 383.

1964: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) set up an office in Selma to organize for voting rights there and in surrounding counties.  They arranged for people in Lowndes County to hear tapes of lectures Malcolm X gave every week in New York City.

July 10. 1964: Circuit Judge James Hare issued an injunction making it illegal for three or more people to congregate in Dallas County.  Sheriff Clark enforced this into the fall, but “the Courageous Eight” (eight adults who had been active for many years) just called secret meetings.

November 1964: Leaders of the Dallas County Voters League asked Dr. King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to come to Selma to add to the pressure for voter registration.

January 2, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at a mass meeting in Brown Chapel in Selma pm a day when Sheriff Clark was out of town and Police Chief Baker agreed not to interfere.

January 3, 1965: When Tuskegee Institute Advancement League (TIAL) and SNCC organizer Sammy Younge Jr. used a whites-only public toilet, a white attendant shot and killed him.

January 18-February 5, 1965: Over 2.400 demonstrators in Selma were jailed.  At one of the demonstrations, Annie Lee Cooper, a practical nurse who had been active since 1963, struck Sheriff Clark when he twisted her arm.  Photographers spread around the nation pictures of the beating she received.

January 22, 1965: 105 black teachers marched and went to register to vote in Selma, even though they were beaten and their jobs were at stake.

January 30, 1965: Over 600 adults tried to register to vote in Perry County while about the same number of their children, with the help of SNCC and the Perry County Civic League, tested the ability to eat in public places because of the 1964 Civil Rights Law.  Eleven students were arrested and then 850 people demonstrating against those arrests were arrested as well.  Some of the adults lost their jobs.

February 1, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph David Abernathy planned to be arrested by Chief Baker so that they would be in the city jail instead of under the control of Sheriff Clark; they refused to post bond until February 5.  In Perry County, 700 students and adults, including James Orange, were arrested.

February 4, 1965: Malcolm X spoke in Selma and told Coretta Scott King that he would begin recruiting in Alabama later that month.  Mobile Judge Daniel H. Thomas issued an injunction suspending the Alabama literacy test and requiring the Registrar in Dallas County to stop discriminating against people seeking to register to vote there (but not in other counties).

February 10, 1965: Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark forced 165 black youth to run out of town to avoid being hit by patrol cars.

February 18, 1965: A demonstration led by C. T. Vivian was held at night in Marion (Perry County) to protest the arrest of SCLC organizer James Orange for “contributing to the delinquency of minors” by involving them in the voter registration campaign.  After turning off the street lights, state troopers and local police began attacking everyone brutally, including those who had escaped into a nearby cafe.  When Jimmie Lee Jackson tried to stop the attacks on his mother and the 82-year-old grandfather, he was shot by a state trooper, James Bonnard Fowler.  Eight days later, Jackson, a twenty-six-year-old Vietnam vet, a church deacon, and the only bread-winner in his family, died in a Selma hospital.  Al Lingo, the head of the state troopers sent an arrest warrant to Jackson’s hospital room but Fowler faced no disciplinary action.

February 21, 1965: Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City.

March 7, 1965: State troopers beat and tear-gassed many of the 600 people who were trying to march from Selma to Montgomery to protest the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson and the denial of the right to vote.  SNCC organizer John Lewis was given a cracked skull and Amelia Boynton was beaten and gassed nearly to death.  Seventeen marchers were hospitalized, leading to the day becoming known as Bloody Sunday.

March 9, 1965: As many people flocked to Selma to show their support of the local people, Dr. King led about 2,500 back onto the bridge but ended up obeying the court order not to march to Montgomery by turning around after everyone had kneeled in prayer.

March 11, 1965: Four members of the Ku Klux Klan in Selma beat three white ministers with clubs.  After Selma’s public hospital refused to help Rev. James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from the North, he was taken to Birmingham, where he died the next day.  Tuskegee students opened a second front of the struggle in Montgomery, where they were joined by James Bevel and others from SNCC for a major demonstration at the state capitol on March 15 and 16, where they were again beaten.  Seven Selma solidarity activists sat in at the East Wing of the White House until they were arrested.  Other protests occurred in over eighty cities.  President Johnson met the next day with Governor George Wallace and told him to protect the marchers.

March 15, 1965: President Johnson spoke to Congress saying that the cause of the demonstrators in Selma was also their cause.  Two days later, he submitted voting rights legislation to Congress.

March 21-25, 1965: A successful march from Selma to Montgomery started with 8,000 people and ended with about 25,000 people at the state capitol, where Dr. King gave the speech “How Long, Not Long.”

March 25, 1965: When Viola Liuzzo, a white SNCC supporter from Detroit, let a young black man ride in her front seat as she drove him back to Selma, Klan members in Lowndes County chased them and killed her.  An FBI informant, who may or may not have fired the fatal shot, testified against three of the men, but Lowndes County jurors still ruled for first a hung jury and then for an acquittal.  Eventually, the federal government convicted the three for violating her civil rights and gave them a ten-year sentence.

August 6, 1965: President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, forcing the officials of Lowndes County to allow black men and women to register to vote.

August 13, 1965: About thirty young people protesting discrimination at a store in Fort Deposit were arrested and taken to jail in Hayneville.

August 20, 1965: The officials in the Hayneville jail forced the protesters to leave without being allowed to call for SNCC protectors.  When some of them went to buy sodas in a nearby store, Tom Coleman, recently deputized and told about their release, stood at the door with a shotgun.  He murdered Jon Daniels, a white Episcopalian seminarian from New Hampshire, as Daniels pushed aside Ruby Sales, a Tuskegee student, saving her life.  Coleman also severely wounded Father Richard F. Morrisoe, a white Catholic priest.  He was acquitted of murder charges.

November 1965: When black activists became involved in the election for members of local committees of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service of the United States, they had only partial success, in part because of some local white people cheating.

December 1965-1967: Tent City (also called Freedom City) was established by Highway 80 for sharecroppers and others who had lost their jobs and homes because they had registered to vote.  In Detroit, the Lowndes County Christian Movement for Human Rights raised money to buy the 200 acres.

1966: The U. S. District Court ordered Lowndes County officials to allow women and all blacks to serve on juries for the first time in White v. Crook, a court case sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  Pauli Murray, a black feminist, was one of the lawyers on the case.

May 1966: After at least 2,500 black people registered to vote in Lowndes County, the local Democratic Party greatly increased the fees to run for office in the Democratic Primary (such as from $50 to $900).  This led to the black leaders deciding to form a separate political party, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization.  The state required them to put a symbol on the ballot and they chose the Black Panther (which was later adopted by the Black Panther Party founded in Oakland, California).  At regular meetings guarded by black men with shotguns, they distributed SNCC Voting Primers explaining county offices.

May 3, 1966: The seven candidates for county offices from the Lowndes County Freedom Organization were cheated out of the victories they probably deserved.

March 12, 1967: An arsonist destroyed the headquarters of the Lowndes County Self-Help Housing and Job Training, only about four months after it opened.  They, nevertheless, kept the program going, including by building houses for people living in Tent City.

1968: Lowndes County activists renewed canvassing to register voters.  Two African Americans were elected to be Justice of the Peace.

Summer 1970: Darrell Prescott, a senior at Harvard University, volunteered in Wilcox County.  He wrote a few months later that over the previous two years there, “a black man has been castrated, a white woman has sot a black male child, and a white doctor who is a member of the KKK has plotted to have the county’s black VISTA director assassinated.”  In Selma, a policeman had beaten a black man to death on the street.  Wilcox County voters, however, had defeated the re-election of Sheriff Lumbar Jenkins who, over the years, “had murdered many black people.”  He vowed to arrest as many black people as possible before he had to leave office.

1970: John Hulett, a local black civil rights leader, was elected Sheriff of Lowndes County, a position he held for about twelve years.  African Americans were also elected to be the coroner, the tax assessor, and the superintendent of education.

1972: Ernest Doyle, Rev. Lorenzo Harrison, Rev. William Kemp, James Kimbrough, and Rev. F. D. Reese were the first African Americans elected to the Selma City Council since Reconstruction.

1980: Almost all of the Lowndes County offices were held by African Americans.

1985: Smith v. Meese was a lawsuit against the U. S. Attorney-General by nine voters from Greene, Lowndes, Perry, Sumter, and Wilcox Counties in the name of all registered black voters in Alabama because white officials were asserting that black activists had misused absentee ballots, even though that was not the case and the government had never gone after the many forms of voter fraud by Black Belt white officials.  The “Marion Three” were judged not guilty by a federal jury in Selma.

1996: Representative John Lewis, a SNCC veteran from Atlanta, convinced Congress and President Clinton to designate the route of the march from Selma to Montgomery (passing through Lowndes County) a National Historical Trail.

2002: Almost two-thirds of the land in the ten Black Belt Counties (78% in Lowndes County and over 73% in Perry County) was owned by people or companies not located within the county of the land they owned.  More than two-thirds of this land qualified for a sizable tax break.  Much of that land was and is being used for timber farming and hunting leases to earn money from wealthy and corporate hunters.

2004: James Bonard Fowler, a retired Alabama state trooper, confessed to a journalist that he had killed Jimmie Lee Jackson in 1965.  He insisted, however,  that it was not murder, claiming, “He was trying to kill me, and I have no doubt in my mind…that if he would have gotten complete control of my pistol, that he would have killed me or shot me.  That’s why my conscience is clear.”  In 2010, he pled guilty to second-degree manslaughter and received a six month sentence.

2014: The main industries in Dallas County are International paper, Rayco Industrial, and Bush Hog.  27.4% of its residents are living below the poverty line.

September 22, 2012: The Southern Movement Assembly met in Lowndes County at the site of Tent City.

2015: A petition is being circulated to change the name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge because of his Confederate and Klan background. The black community is divided over whether to do this.

Compiled by Cita Cook for Project South