Voter Registration (Selma 1965) The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), one of the principal organisations of the American Civil Rights movement, had undertaken an ambitious voter registration program in Selma, Alabama, in 1963; organising African-American citizens to register to vote. However, by 1965 they had made little headway in the face of opposition from Selma's sheriff, Jim Clark. After local residents asked the SCLC (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, lead by Martin Luther King, Jr.) for assistance, King came to Selma to lead several marches, at which he was arrested along with 250 other demonstrators. The marchers continued to meet violent resistance from police.
When did it happen? • Between 1963 and 1965. The most pivotal day was March 7th, 1965, when Hosea Williams of the SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC led a march of 600 people to walk the 87 km from Selma to the Alabama state capital in Montgomery. Only six blocks into the march, however, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state troopers and local law enforcement, some mounted on horseback, attacked the peaceful demonstrators with clubs, tear gas, rubber tubes wrapped in barbed wire and bull whips and drove the marchers back into Selma. At least 16 people were hospitalised and many more were injured. • The national broadcast of the footage of lawmen attacking unresisting marchers seeking the right to vote provoked a national response, inspiring protests in Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, New Jersey, and other cities, and caught the attention of the White House. The marchers were able to obtain a court order permitting them to make the march without incident two weeks later. • President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on August 6.
Where did happen? Selma, Alabama, USA.
Why did it occur? • This occurred because African-Americans were being denied of their right to vote. They were being forced to take voter tests and pay taxes which were all but completely impossible to pass in order to register to vote.
Who did it involve? • It involved many civilians as well as a lot of prominent people involved in the American Civil Rights movement such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Amelia Boynton Robinson, Hosea Williams of the SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC who lead the march on March 7th.
Why was it an important event in the history of Black Civil Rights? • The 1965 act suspended poll taxes, literacy tests and other voter tests that prevented African-Americans from voting. It authorized Federal supervision of voter registration in states and individual voting districts where such tests were being used. African-Americans who had been barred from registering to vote finally had an alternative to local or state courts. If voting discrimination occurred, the 1965 act authorized the Attorney General of the United States to send federal examiners to replace local registrars. • The act had an immediate and positive impact for African-Americans. Within months of the act being passed, 250,000 new black voters had been registered. Within four years, voter registration in the South had more than doubled. In 1965, Mississippi had the highest black voter turnout – 74% – and led the nation in the number of African-American public officials elected. In 1969, Tennessee had a 92.1% turnout; Arkansas, 77.9%; and Texas, 73.1%. • Blacks' regaining the power to vote changed the political landscape of the South. When Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, about 100 African Americans held elective office in the U.S. By 1989, there were more than 7,200 African Americans in office, including more than 4,800 in the South. Nearly every Black Belt county in Alabama had a black sheriff. Southern blacks held top positions within city, county, and state governments.
How does it relate to Maya Angelou’s poetry? Dr King led the march from Selma to Montgomery and the many marches to the county courthouse to vote. Dr King and the people of Selma faced police forces and arrest, but still, they rose. The idea of keeping on going and rising, to fight for what you believe in can be linked to Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise’ (“out of the huts of history’s shame, I rise….Leaving behind the nights of terror and fear, I rise,”) Angelou’s poem “Equality” also has direct links to protests and Marches, much similar to those during Selma 1965. “you declare you see me dimly, through a glass that will not shine, though I stand before you boldly, trim rank and marking time.”- Military allusions relate to the protestors marching together, united, ready to fight for the same cause. During the Selma incident alone, there were over 7 marches, with protesters beating out the same message “While my drums beat out the message and the rhythms never change.” Angelou’s poems often talk about strength through unity and using your voice as protest (I know why the caged bird sings)” The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of the things unknown, but longed for still”. I rise and Equality, talk about the trials and triumphs of African Americans during this time. The ideas of prejudice and discrimination found in her poems, can represent Selma 1965