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Cities: Americus

Evening March and Prayer Vigil

As racial tensions in Americus escalated, several organizations (the Sumter County Movement, SNCC, and the SCLC) mobilized black citizens to demonstrate for integration and jobs more frequently. During an evening march held on July 30, 1965, Americus citizens in this WSB clip come out to demonstrate under the protection of state patrolmen. Earlier in the day, four black women (Mary Kate Fishe Bell, a Spelman College graduate; Lena Turner; Mamie Campbell; and Gloria Wise) had been released from jail by the order of Federal Judge William A. Bootle. They had been held on one thousand dollars bond, and they served ten days in jail for failing to leave the white women’s voting line in a special election for Justice of the Peace held on July 20, 1965. After ten days of protest Judge Bootle ordered the immediate integration of Sumter County voting. Days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, prohibiting taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, and other practices that excluded citizens like the four Americus women from the ballot.

This march through Americus was in direct opposition to the call from Americus Mayor T. Griffin Walker for a cessation of all protests and demonstrations. The Mayor believed the only recourse for seeking equality involved the courts. He also initially opposed the creation of a biracial committee to address the concerns of black citizens because he felt it would only create further unrest. Although demonstrators rejected his demands, they delayed their march until after the funeral procession for Andrew Whatley. The twenty-one year old white man had been shot by stray bullets from a passing car on July 29, 1965. Whatley and others were watching a night rally held by Civil Rights Movement demonstrators when the incident occurred. Two black men (Eddie Lamar and Charlie Lee Hopkins) were charged with the shooting. 

What stands out in this march is the striking image of the demonstrators. A large number of young participants are seen marching alongside a racially mixed crowd of adults. Some demonstrators hold signs, and sheer determination shows itself upon the faces of many. Under the escort of Georgia State patrolmen and a lone patrol car, the marchers move forward through downtown Americus to claim their rights as citizens. The participants end the march in a prayer vigil as the patrolmen look on.

This story reinforces how crucial the participation of youth was to the success of the Movement. Not only did young people volunteer for sit-ins such as the ones in Albany's Carnegie Library and Trailways Station (see the Freedom on Film Albany pages), they also marched, went to jail, and risked their lives going door-to-door in order to register voters. Later, in frustration at the slow pace of change, some of the student activists separated from the nonviolent organizations to form their own strategies.

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Discussion Questions

1. What did southern blacks have to gain by full access to the vote? What were some of the policies that segregationists instituted to prevent African Americans from voting? How did unequal and inferior educations create barriers for obtaining the vote?

2. In the Presidential election of 2000, many Americans, particularly in the South, challenged the accuracy of the "hanging chads" used to document their votes. In the Presidential election of 2004, many Americans questioned the accuracy and reliability of electronic voting machines. In both elections, some voters, particularly African Americans, complained about not being allowed to vote at all, or being turned away from the polls because they lacked the proper voter identification. Do you think that the U.S. government has put mechanisms in place to minimize such problems in the future, or do you think that the voting process needs an overhaul?

3. Puerto Rico is a self-governing commonwealth of the United States. As members of this commonwealth, Puerto Ricans are not eligible to vote in Presidential elections nor do they pay income taxes, yet they can receive Social Security and welfare payments if eligible. They also can serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Do you think citizens of Puerto Rico should be permitted to vote for the President of the United States? Are there other groups that may now be excluded from such voting (for example, permanent residents of the U.S.; students under the age of eighteen) that you think have a right to vote?

 Take it to the Streets!

Study how either African Americans or women strategized to obtain the vote in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Visit the Library of Congress's page entitled "Votes for Women": Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920" to view images of this activism, as well as images of nineteenth-century African Americans in the New York Public Library's Digital Collection. What were some of the slogans that these groups created to argue for the vote, and what symbols did they use? Discuss how they tried to persuade opponents that the entire nation would be better off if they were given access to the vote.

Writer: Lauren Chambers  
Editors: Christina L. Davis, Deborah Stanley and Diane Trap   
Researchers: Lauren Chambers, Aggie Ebrahimi, Courtney Thomas, and Professor Barbara McCaskill    
Web Site Designer: William Weems

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