SNCC Field Report 1963: Bruce Gordon Documents Fight for Voter Registration, Efforts to De-Segregate Selma

July 22, 2017 at 12:49 pm Leave a comment

In Our Hearts discusses family stories and genealogy… but to really understand the past, and the lives of our Elders, we must go beyond mere historical documents. Only by listening to firsthand accounts, and by researching the events, forces, and struggles that our Elders experienced, can this generation truly appreciate what the many blessings, and opportunities, that we have inherited because of the prayers, efforts and sacrifices made by those who came before us.

This article is dedicated to my beloved Uncle.. who shared with me his struggle to register to vote in Alabama, and his courageous efforts to have his vote count

Bruce Gordon (Source: Google Images)

“...The demonstrations gave the Negroes a new determination to become first class citizens…our work must be continued not only in Dallas County, but expanded to the surrounding counties. It is difficult to document the spirit and drive that must motivate these people through apathy and fear, to commit the simple act of coming to a court house to register to vote… ” Bruce Gordon, SNCC

Source:  Field Report from Bruce Gordon: November 9, 1963 (Selma, Alabama)

Length: 10 pages, typewritten

An incredible, moving historic document published on the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website, recorded by Bruce Gordon of the SNCC, records the courageous efforts of the Civil Rights Movement to register African-Americans to vote in Selma, and the surrounding counties of the Alabama Black Belt; and records efforts to de-segregate Selma in 1963. 

Negroes account for 58% of the population of Dallas County, and (better) in excess of 50% of the population of Selma, 28,600, yet Negroes control little of the economy and none of the politics of Dallas County or Selma… Dallas County has a long and negative history, as far as race relations are concerned, with 21 reported lynchings between April 1882 and January, 1913. Today police brutality, shots in the night, beatings, and economic reprisals are not rare forms of keeping Negroes out of the economic and political life of Dallas County. These factors, plus discrimination by registrars are the main (factors) for lack of Negroes registered in Dallas County..” (page 1)

Retaliation documented in this report includes that of 30 teachers who were threatened and fired from their positions after attempting to register to vote.

In the early fall of 1962, workers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) (page 2) came to Selma to explore the possibility of creating a voter registration project. After receiving support from local churches, local civil rights organizations and The Dallas County Voters League, the possibility turned into a reality. As word of the project spread, calls for help and information about the project flooded the small house rented by the SNCC, across from the county jail, that served as its office. The voter registration project began to quickly expand with high school students emerging as its new leaders.

Voter registration programs were started in the rural towns of Sardis, Orrville, Hayden, Bogue Chitto and Beloit…connecting otherwise isolated areas of Dallas County to news, information and connecting them to a growing Civil Rights Movement.

The Dallas County Voters League and SNCC did not stop with voter registration but also worked to end segregation in Selma, presenting a list of demands to Mayor Heinz. If demands were not met, street demonstrations were planned. Two events rallied the demonstrations ahead of time – one being a letter Mayor Heinz submitted to the local newspaper stating he would not acknowledge any demands, the second being the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on September 15, 1963. Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church (video, biography.com)

In the face of such horror, sit -in demonstrations and picketing began in Selma. The brutal retaliation against demonstrators did not quell the resistance but served to shine what became a national spotlight on the oppression, discrimination and injustices that African-Americans faced in Selma (and the South in general). Gordon writes that,”This was the first time in the history of Dallas County that Negroes had actively demonstrated against this unjust social system. These demonstrations greatly reduced the fear and apathy that was prevalent at that time, among local Negroes….”  (p.4) Despite intimidation, and a growing number of state troopers sent to Selma to stifle the protests, the Civil Rights Movement continued to rally support as African-American citizens, the descendants of slaves who never experienced any freedom, gathered to pray, demonstrate and attempt to register to vote in growing numbers.

The field report documents the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement in Selma, its members and the opposition faced.

This groundbreaking work would lay the foundation for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to lead the march from Selma to capitol city, Montgomery in 1965. Selma to Montgomery March 1965

 

For More Information: 

Civil Rights Movement Veterans

October 1963: Freedom Day in Selma (SNCC Digital)

Retracing the Selma to Montgomery March

Commons Wikipedia: English: Photograph shows marchers carrying banner “We march with Selma!” on street in Harlem, New York City, New York. 15 March 1965. Link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:We_March_With_Selma_cph.3c35695.jpg

 

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Entry filed under: alabama, Historical Information & Tidbits. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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