Challenges to the 1965 Voting Rights Act are soon expected to be heard by the Supreme Court. While I will leave it to my readers to comment and the lawyers to argue the merits of the cases, I personally witnessed voting discrimination that the VRA helped overcome in Wilcox County, Alabama. During my summer as a civil rights worker with SNCC and SCLC, we walked door to door in integrated teams informing black residents of their right to vote and to run their own candidates. Our leaders directed us to arrange rides to the polls and provide political education and literacy training. We used to pick up and drop off literature at Mrs. Angion’s home. Local folks waited on her porch for drivers to carry them in to Camden to stand in line only to be turned away by the voting registrar, but they kept on coming, kept on marching. In June, the local Ku Klux Klan broke into our church headquarters and beat three young men while five others escaped to safety the evening after I was released from jail along with most of the other eighteen workers cited in this press release from Ralph D. Abernathy
On July 1, 1965, SCLC VP and Treasurer Rev Ralph D. Abernathy sent us a copy of a press release that called on Congress and President Johnson to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act, citing mistreatment of our SCLC group in Wilcox.
“Field workers of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and local Negro citizens engaged in voter registration projects throughout The South are being subjected to sinister harassments and brutal intimidations….Wilcox County is one of the most infamous of the state’s Black Belt counties, where until recently, not a single Negro was registered to vote.
In Camden, the county seat, local whites Tuesday night broke into a house of God, Antioch Baptist Church, fired a shot gun blast against the wall and brutally beat seven Negro teenagers, two of them so badly they had to be hospitalized.
Earlier Tuesday, an 18-year old white SCOPE worker was released from jail so badly beaten that he had to be hospitalized. The brutally beaten youth was one of 18 persons arrested by the Camden Mayor, Sheriff and posse men when SCOPE workers protested against local merchants by distributing boycott materials….
We firmly believe that the vicious treatment of the local Negroes and our voter registration workers is symptomatic of a sick society in which Negro citizens are denied the right to vote for elected officials.”
That is very sad. I am sharing this (and the blog, in general) with my mother who grew up in Camden in the 50s and 60s. It is a sad chapter in our history, but one that must never be forgotten.
Dear Katy, thank you for responding to my blog about Wilcox County. I have stayed in touch with many of the people I knew when we were all young together. Just today I had lunch with Alma Moton from Possum Bend, right here in New York City where we are visiting. We are trying to get a publisher interested in telling the untold stories of the brave students of Camden, Alabama.
There were many young women who worked with us that summer, unfortunately I did not catch all their names as we were on the run much of the time. The Klan was very upset with us for coming to support local students and adults in their struggle.
I thank you for your support of getting the story of your mother’s hometown heroes out into the world.
Peace & love, Maria