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S P E C I A L   C O L L E C T I O N
Selma and early civil rights enforcement

Rising tension over voter discrimination in Alabama led to the famous Selma-to-Montgomery marches in March 1965. In the years leading up to the Voting Rights Act, whose passage was a direct response to the Selma marches, civil rights activists tirelessly worked to end voter discrimination as well as racial discrimination more generally. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division commenced myriad lawsuits seeking to curb racial discrimination in Alabama that kept black individuals from exercising their right to register and vote. This Clearinghouse special collection brings together the relevant events and litigation.

Tension in Selma over racial discrimination and voting rights continued to rise throughout the early 1960s, ultimately precipitating the Selma-to-Montgomery protests in March 1965. Civil rights activists - including organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) - conducted mass meetings, demonstrations, and education and encouragement efforts to promote voter registration among Alabama’s black citizens. Selma was located in Dallas County, and a major source of the tension came from the county sheriff’s office. Sheriff James Clark ran the office, with the assistance of his deputies as well as hundreds of nonprofessional "possemen" charged with responding to emergency and disaster situations. Sheriff Clark allowed the possemen to handle all race-related matters in Selma. These men carried guns and clubs, and sometimes gas canisters. The Sheriff and his possemen beat, arrested, and jailed black individuals on various occasions under dubious justifications. Sometimes, they would attend mass meetings and subsequently arrest attendees on unrelated grounds. Other times, they simply failed to protect black individuals from the conduct of other civilians.

The years leading up to the Selma marches also saw competing injunctions. On the federal, pro-protestor side, U.S. district Judge Frank Johnson issued a series of injunctions prohibiting various governmental agencies in Alabama from engaging in voter discrimination. These were lawsuits brought by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division under the Civil Rights Act, which made it illegal to deny eligible voters the right to vote on the basis of race, as well as to intimidate, threaten, or coerce individuals so as to keep them from exercising that right. The DOJ attacked various practices to keep black voters from registering, including intimidation and coercion, arrests, and double standards in administering and assessing applications from white and black voters.

Meanwhile, in state court, white supremacist state court Judge James Hare issued an injunction in July 1964 making it illegal to talk to more than two people at a time about voter registration or civil rights in Selma. This injunction slowed down progress among activists. The injunction was ultimately dissolved by a federal court, though its dissolution did not stop Sheriff Clark from continuing to plot how to interfere with the activists.

Tension in Selma rose after a trooper shot a black man in Marion, AL during a riot following demonstrations in front of a courthouse. In response, the Selma marches were planned for March 1965. The Selma marches took place between March 7 and March 25, 1965.

The first protest, on March 7, resulted in so much violence between the protesters and state troopers that the day was named “Bloody Sunday.” Although demonstrators were walking peacefully to Montgomery, state troopers ordered them to stop and disperse. The troopers deployed tear gas, nausea gas, and canisters of smoke. They used clubs and horses to chase and beat the demonstrators.

Undeterred, the protesters sought protection for their future marches. Civil rights leaders Hosea Williams, John Lewis, and Amelia Boynton filed a class action suit in federal court before Judge Johnson, seeking judicially ordered protection from interference with future marches. Judge Johnson instead issued an order temporarily restraining the activists from marching into Montgomery until he could conduct a hearing on the matter. That same day, Dr. King led protesters to the border of Selma but no further, strategically choosing to respect the restraining order and not alienate a judge sympathetic to voter discrimination issues in Alabama. That day came to be known as "Turnaround Tuesday."

Finally, Judge Johnson issued an injunction to keep state officials from interfering with the subsequent proposed marches. From March 21 through March 25, protected by the United States Army and Alabama National Guard, thousands of protesters marched from Selma to Montgomery demanding an end to voter discrimination.

Like thousands of other protestors, Detroit resident Viola Liuzzo came to Selma as a volunteer. On March 25, 1965, she and another volunteer were driving to Montgomery to shuttle protesters back to Selma. Klansmen in another car spotted Liuzzo - a white woman - sitting next to 19 year-old Leroy Moton - a black man - and pursued them. One of the Klansmen shot Liuzzo in the head as she was driving, killing her. A grand jury indicted the Klansmen in federal court, but the case then transferred to state court. Two state court trials for murder were held; the first ended in a hung jury, and the second in acquittal. The case then returned to federal court, though the charges were limited to conspiracy and not murder. In the first modern prosecution of Klan members for their acts of terror, the Klansmen were found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison. This case signaled that the KKK was no longer above the law. In 1979, Liuzzo’s family sued the FBI for damages claiming negligence in dispatching their informant among the Klansmen who shot Liuzzo. The court did not grant them damages.

Civil rights activity in Alabama was not limited to voter discrimination. While the state court jury that ultimately acquitted the Klansman was entirely comprised of white men, a short while later, a federal court enjoined Alabama from denying black men and all women access to jury service in state courts.

The cases in this collection include the DOJ complaints and corresponding injunctions about voter discrimination and harassment in Alabama in the years leading up to the Selma marches, civil rights activists’ complaints against various coercive practices, the injunction allowing protesters to assemble in March 1965, the DOJ’s prosecution of the Klansmen who killed Viola Liuzzo, and the class action that enjoined Alabama from denying all women and black men the ability to serve on state court juries.

The below cases represent a special subset of the full Clearinghouse collection.
Your search returned 14 results Save Search As:       
1 Liuzzo v. United States
Civ. A. No. 79–60014 (E.D. Mich.)
Filed 1979 - Closed 1983
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Policing
Speech and Religious Freedom
FA-MI-0018
Coding Complete
2 United States v. Wilkins
23289 (M.D. Ala.)
Filed 1965 - Closed 1967
Eugene Thomas
Election/Voting Rights
Speech and Religious Freedom
FA-AL-0004
Coding Complete
3 Williams v. Wallace
Civ. A. No. 2181-N (M.D. Ala.)
Filed 1965 - Closed 1965
Sheriff James G. Clarke
Election/Voting Rights
VR-AL-0264
Dallas County
Coding Complete
4 White v. Crook
2263-N (M.D. Ala.)
Filed 1965 - Closed 1966
Lowndes County Jury Commission
Public Accomm./Contracting
PA-AL-0005
Lowndes County
Coding Complete
5 U.S. v. James G. Clark, Jr.
3438-64 (S.D. Ala.)
Filed 1964 - Closed 1969
Sheriff James G. Clarke
Election/Voting Rights
Public Accomm./Contracting
PA-AL-0003
Coding Complete
6 Dallas County v. Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee
3388-64 (S.D. Ala.)
Filed 1964 - Closed 1965
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
Election/Voting Rights
VR-AL-0265
Coding Complete
7 Alabama v. Allen
3385-64 (S.D. Ala.)
Filed 1964 - Closed
Eddie Allen
Election/Voting Rights
VR-AL-0266
Coding Complete
8 United States v. McLeod (Dallas County)
3188-63 (S.D. Ala.)
Filed 1963 - Closed 1967
James Hare, Judge for the Fourth Judicial Circuit
Election/Voting Rights
VR-AL-0248
Coding Complete
9 United States v. Dallas County
Civ. A. No. 3064-63 (S.D. Ala.)
Filed 1963 - Closed 1967
Sheriff James G. Clarke
Election/Voting Rights
VR-AL-0262
Dallas County
Coding Complete
10 United States v. Cartwright
Civ. A. No. 1957-N (M.D. Ala.)
Filed 1963 - Closed 1964
Board of Registrars
Election/Voting Rights
VR-AL-0263
Elmore County
Coding Complete
11 United States v. Atkins
NO. 2584 (S.D. Ala.)
Filed 1961 - Closed 1965
State of Alabama
Election/Voting Rights
VR-AL-0249
Coding Complete
12 United States v. Penton
Civ. A. No. 1741-N (M.D. Ala.)
Filed 1961 - Closed 1962
State of Alabama
Election/Voting Rights
VR-AL-0261
Coding Complete
13 United States v. Alabama
Civ. A. No. 479-E (M.D. Ala.)
Filed 1960 - Closed 1961
State of Alabama
Election/Voting Rights
VR-AL-0260
Coding Complete
14 In re Wallace
No. 1487-N (M.D. Ala.)
Filed 1958 - Closed 1959
Judge George Wallace
Election/Voting Rights
VR-AL-0259
Coding Complete
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