On this dayOct 07, 1963

Alabama Troopers Attack Black People Registering to Vote in Selma

John Kouns

On October 7, 1963, hundreds of Black Selma residents attempted to register to vote, but were met by state and local officials, who used stalling and intimidation tactics to deny them that right, and violence against supporters attempting to give them food and water as they waited in line.

In 1963, representatives of civil rights organizations such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Dallas County Voter's League (DCVL) organized Black residents of Selma, Alabama, to challenge discriminatory voter registration practices. At the time, Dallas County was 58 percent Black, but less than one percent of eligible Black residents were registered to vote. During 1963, Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark met their voter registration efforts with harassment and violent resistance, joined by other local law enforcement officers and segregationist supporters who participated in violence against Black residents with impunity. Hundreds of Black residents were arrested, beaten, or threatened in Selma during the first half of 1963.

On the morning of October 7th, on what SNCC and DCVL called “Freedom Day,” 350 Black residents of Selma bravely lined up at the county courthouse - risking their livelihoods - and attempted to register to vote. The registrars intentionally slowed down the proceedings, limiting registration to only a few people every hour and ensuring that only a small handful of those waiting in line would be able to register. Sheriff Clark, his deputies, and supporters forbade Freedom Day participants from leaving the line to eat, drink, or use the restroom.

At 12:30 pm, a group of forty state troopers arrived and assisted local law enforcement in intimidating the Freedom Day participants. Because those waiting to register to vote could not leave the line to eat or drink, at one point, a group of organizers attempted to bring food and water to the Black residents waiting in line. These organizers were beaten and shocked with cattle prods by the state and local officials. A reporter was also beaten by state troopers. Representatives of the FBI and the Department of Justice witnessed these unlawful attacks but did nothing to intervene.

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