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Violence In Selma

April 20, 2011 in 1960s-1970s

Violence In Selma

        In February of 1963 members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee came to Selma, Alabama to inform the local black population about voting, integration, and freedoms.  They were met with distaste from local newspapers and violence from law enforcement.  The intent of local law enforcement was to keep demonstrators quiet and to avoid negative publicity across the country.  The task of taking care of the marches was up to Selma Police Director Wilson Baker and Dallas County Sheriff Tom Clark.  Baker and Clark’s inability to cooperatively handle the marches peacefully was the reason for the civil rights triumph.

         The city was under the new administration of Mayor Joseph Smitherman who was a progressive.  He saw the cotton and agriculture industries depleting and not enough to support the Selma economy.  It became his goal to bring Northern industry to Selma but saw Northern civil rights workers as a problem.  Smitherman came from the lower class and sympathized with them.  He recognized that after Reconstruction black suffrage was a threat white supremacy and would make lower class white citizens equals to blacks, a status whites were unwilling to accept.  With growing civil rights activism in Selma, Smitherman was determined to put city officials in place to deal with the problems.


          The two people Smitherman asked to quell the civil rights workers were Baker and Clark.  The two men had different views of how to handle the SNCC members.  Baker was aware of a march that took place two years earlier in Albany, Georgia where marchers were met with non-violence and simply arrested.  There Dr. King was approached with southern kindness and he did not win any momentum or publicity in the demonstration.  Baker was trying to model his dealings with the activism with similar non-violent, quiet actions but Clark had other ideas.  Clark was seen as a “Bull Connor” figure, the symbol of white resistance, and a leader of the crusade for whites in Selma.  He called the organizing of blacks in his county an “emergency” and asked for volunteers to come in and serve as his posse. The disagreement in policy between the two would lead to confusion among law enforcement and the breakdown of official power.


          In 1963 only 1% of the 15,000 non-whites were registered to vote.  When SNCC workers knocked on the door of an older black woman in Selma the woman told them she did not know what voting was and if she went down to the courthouse to register, she would have to carry her coffin with her.  Along with SNCC, the SCLC got involved in organizing weekly ward meetings where blacks could have their voices heard.  Clark responded quickly to these meetings by mass arrests, public displays of outrage, and by surrounding the meetings with his posse.  Clark shouted at the civil rights workers, “You are here to cause trouble … You are an agitator and that is the lowest form in humanity.” At one meeting James Bevel ordered sheriff’s posse out of the meeting and the act of defiance spread across the city.  In a stand of heroism Bevel ordered, “We mean to vote and have representation in government … we must be prepared to fight and die …until we get the right to vote.” When the proclamation reached blacks more and more rallied behind voting rights but Clark was embarrassed in his retreat and increased his action.

            The meetings had paid off and the time came for the march from Selma to the capital of Montgomery.  Knowing the possibility of violence from Clark at the march, Baker set up a diversion for him go to the airport that morning and meet with incoming officials.  The marchers were first met by Alabama State Troopers who were on one end of the Edmond Pettus Bridge on horseback.  The troopers pushed marchers back and then Clark showed up unanticipated with his posse of irregular uniformed men as he shouted, “Get those god-damned niggers.” Armed with cattle prods and clubs the posse, along with state troopers, chased the demonstrators out of downtown area.  Viewing the horrific beatings, Baker intervened and urged marchers to go inside to their meeting areas for safety.  Baker could not do anything but watch as cameras captured chaos on camera which would be later tagged, Bloody Sunday.

           There is no question the violence in Selma was incited by racist city officials and the restless actions of Sheriff Clark.  Clark followed the “Do not give an inch” policy and he promoted it among other members of law enforcement.  Thanks to brave civil rights activists and the people of Selma the right to vote was seen around the country. Clark quieted the marchers but could not quiet strength of the larger movement.  Clark activated others through his violence and triggered large scale political action.

Works Cited

Chestnut Jr., J. L., and Julia Cass. Black in Selma. Toronto: Harper & Collins, 1990. Print.

Fager, Charles. Selma, 1965,. New York: Scribner, 1974. Print.

 Lewis, David L. King; a Critical Biography. New York: Praeger, 1970. Print.


by becca

Real Life Reactions of time during Civil Rights Movement

October 14, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Social history

I found this website and thought it was awesome because you can actually listen to the stories of people that experienced hardships during the Civil Rights Movement.

I listened to Howard Bailey’s story, who said that adults, not just children, but ADULTS would throw rocks at the bus he had to ride.

It’s so sad to think that the people who should be setting a positive image for children are participating in childish acts. These poor kids who were just trying to live their lives like every other child, were being bullied no matter where they were. Most kids just have to put up with bullying while they are at school, but to be bullied all the time, no matter where you are is something that no one should ever experience.

These stories are remarkable and inspiring because these people were so strong.

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