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DRAFT Timeline for Wilcox County Alabama Major Civil Rights Events of the 1960’s

Thank you for years of allowing me to share some of the history of the vital Civil Rights Movement in rural Wilcox County Alabama. I leave with gratitude to all who contributed and to the next generation.

The following timeline highlights events impacting voter registration activities in Wilcox County, Alabama with a focus on 1965. We include major events including Dr. King’s visits to Camden, the county seat. This timeline does not include the overlapping and longer period of the student School Equality Movement which calls for its own timeline and history. 

To add updates specific to the voting rights movement in Wilcox County AL 1960-1967 please write Thank you!

1962 – Gees Bend, AL

Gees Bend ferry service terminated. The Gees Bend ferry that reduced Benders commute from 15 minutes was removed in 1962 when locals began organizing for the right to vote. The community endured the hour and a half drive for forty-four years, until ferry service was restored until 2006. 

1963 –Gees Bend, AL 

Dr. King met with Rev. Lonnie Brown and Monroe Pettway, local leaders who were organizing to register to vote so that they could gain representation on the county agricultural board that controlled cotton, corn, and okra allotments and subsidies. 

Rev Brown was a pastor and insurance agent who organized voters as he visited their homes. White Wilcox County landowners tried to intimidate and Rev. Brown and other local black leaders by interfering with their right to register and vote. On behalf of Rev. Brown and local leaders, the U.S. Attorney General’s office brought an action against the landowners. In 1965, the federal court of appeals found that the federal government made a “strong case” and that the property owners did in fact “intimidate and coerce” the black citizens of Wilcox County for “ the purpose of interfering with their right to vote”. 

Source: U.S. Court of Appeals, (!965), U.S. v Bruce, 353 F2d 474.  In addition, Rosetta Marsh Anderson and Robert Finklea reported seeing Dr. King in 1963 in Camden.

1963    Shreveport, LA

Rev Daniel Harrell and Major Johns who would become Wilcox County directors of SCLC’s Sumer Conference on Political Education (SCOPE) project in the summer of 1965, worked together with Louisiana leaders in a tough campaign to teach literacy and to assist in voter registration. It was a discouraging and minimally successful project but served to cement the men’s reputation within SCLC as a strong team who could tackle tough regions.

Source: Major Johns recounted this to author in 1965. 

April 1963 – Camden, AL 

Ten (10) men or twenty 20 (the number varies from different accounts) from Gees Bend (Boykin) and nearby Albertachallenge the all-white voter registration system by marching on the courthouse. They politely but firmly demand to register to vote. Their local leaders were Rev Lonnie Brown, a preacher and insurance agent and farmer Monroe Pettway. Bernard Lafayette and his then wife, Colia Liddell LaFayette Clark of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) helped with training and logistics for this effort. Bernard Lafayette marched with them to the courthouse. Although they were denied, this was the first documented organized voter registration effort in Wilcox County. Worth Long of SNCC was also doing civil rights fieldwork in Wilcox County at this time. 

Sources: Oral histories shared with author in 2008-2010 and from Cynthia Griggs Fleming, In the Shadow of Selma, Rowman & Littlefield 2004.

Electronic confirmation by Colia Liddell LaFayette Clark March 10, 2010. Verbal confirmation with Bernard Lafayette in Selma, AL March 2014. 

January 30, 1965-Alabama

New Vote Drive in Ala Counties

An article in the Chicago Defender by John Lynch (dateline January 30, 1965 Atlanta GA) mentions Wilcox County as one of the Alabama counties that SCLC is targeting. States that zero blacks are registered in Wilcox. There is a photo of Dr. King. 

Source: Chicago Defender article by John Lynch with Atlanta dateline.

February 2, 1965 – Selma

The Dallas County sheriff rounded up 400 high school students including 100 from Wilcox County who were led by Daniel Harrell and local Wilcox leader Ethel Brooks (also trained by SCLC) when they marched on the Dallas County courthouse to demand the right for adults to register to vote. 

This was part of a series of high school demonstrations in Selma in early February. Dan Harrell had been assigned by SCLC to work in Wilcox County. Other area high school students, most notably from RB Hudson in Selma, had been marching since 1963. Hundreds were arrested, some of them as young as 7 years old.

Sources: To Redeem the Soul of America, Adam Fairclough, pg 233. Interview: Charles A Bonner who was a student leader in Selma and in that march. 

Notes on February-April 1965 Events in Wilcox and Selma 

There were nearly continuous marches, demonstrations by students and adults during this time. While most of Dr. King’s visits were covered by external media, he slipped in and out of the county after quietly meeting with adult and student leaders on more than one occasion. This period coincides with events out of Selma leading up to the March to Montgomery (March 21-15). Hundreds of Wilcox activists and leaders participated in those demonstrations as well as their own.

Photos of students being arrested:

Note on Camden Academy Marches February-May 1965 – Camden, Wilcox County, 

There were continuous adult and student marches, demonstrations, boycotts and protests, mass meetings and attempts to register throughout the spring until seniors had to stop to make up missed classes six weeks before the end of the school year. The marches halted completely near the end of May with the departure of boarding students and a directive from SCLC to move from demonstrations and to concentrate on voter registration. 

Many of the demonstrators lived in or near Camden but hundreds from Coy and dozens from Lower Peachtree, Pine Apple, Boiling Springs, Annemaine, Snow Hill, Millers Ferry and other rural communities were also active in civil rights work. Young women as well as young men were student leaders. Students in different grades perceived different people as leader of particular marches. Many did not know or meet the continuous SCLC and SNCC staff sent to Wilcox County from 1963-66. 

Early on, Sheriff Jenkins arrested students and adults he considered ringleaders but as time went on, arrests were limited in favor of increased beatings, attacks on students homes and family, threats of fire bombing and harassment by the KKK / posse. 

Sources: Eyewitness accounts to author, Maria Gitin 2008-2018. Notes from participants on Camden Academy Alumni Face Book page.

February 14-15, 1965 – Camden, AL 

Dr. King visited Gees Bend and spoke at Pleasant View Baptist Church on Sunday the 14th per the NY Times. Before leaving Wilcox County, he stopped in Camden on Monday the 15th.

Mrs. Irene Williams, one of the Gees Bend quilters, after meeting Dr. King at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Gees Bend and was inspired to begin her series of VOTE quilts. Many are on display in museums. One of William’s “Vote” quilts was the logo for the Alabama Delegation to the 2008 Democratic National Convention where Barack Obama was selected as the party’s candidate for President of the United States. It is now in his Presidential Library in Chicago. 

Source: Quilter’s stories online

February 15, 1965 Camden, AL

The day after he was in Gees Bend, Dr. King visited Camden Academy to meet with Principal Hobbs and Rev. Threadgill, Chaplain at Camden Academy and to encourage the students. At the end of King’s visit, the students may have marched from campus to the courthouse.  

Authors note: Some participants recall two visits to campus, one Feb 15 and one March 15. This was the senior year for Alicia Parrish and Alma Moton. Both recall Dr. King coming in February but not with a demonstration. However, Lewis V Baldwin, who was two years behind these women, believes there was a small march on February 15, 1965. Some others concur with that date. 

Sources:  New York Times dates King’s visit to Gees Bend/Boykin on a Sunday three weeks before Bloody Sunday which was Feb 14th. That matches the Feb 15th date recalled by Camden Academy Students including Alma Moton King and Lewis V. Baldwin.

February 21 – 1965 New York 

Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom at a rally of his organizationThe Nation of Islam. Despite their differences Dr. King and Malcolm X respected each other.

February 26, 1965 – Marion, AL

Marion Al- Jimmy Lee Jackson dies from injuries sustained from a police attack while trying to protect his mother and other family during a demonstration for the right to register to vote. This was the catalyst for SNCC and SCLC to organize a march on Montgomery that evolved into marches from Selma to Montgomery.

For a more detailed timeline visit: – 1965m2mtat

March 1, 1965, Monday – Camden, AL 

Dr. Martin Luther King joined a march in progress and spoke to a crowd of about 200 attempting to register at the courthouse in Camden. He came over from Selma in a driving rain with a caravan of reporters and federal observers. This is the date when King famously confronted Sheriff Lummie Jenkins asking him to ‘vouch’ for the registrants who were required to:

            1. Pass a literacy test, 

            2. Prove citizenship, and 

            3. Have an already registered voter ‘vouch’ for their good character and literacy.

The sheriff declined to assist but ten people were able to register that day. These were declared the first “Negro” voters in Wilcox County, although there may have been earlier registrants. A commemorative march and mass meeting are now celebrated annually on this date prior to the Selma Jubilee. 

Source: Participants and witnesses. 

March 3, 1965 – Camden

Camden Police Meet March with Clubs

60 Blacks Alter Camden’s History 

The above are titles of articles on the same march which had two components: 

First, 220 marched from St. Francis Church with John Lewis honored to lead the locals.  They were met the sheriff and his “goons” with pistols and billy clubs.  They fled to regroup at Antioch Baptist Church.  A few hours later, John Lewis led a group of 

John Lewis of SNCC leads a march of 60 people from Coy, Gees Bend and Camden from St. Francis Church to the courthouse to try to register. Sheriff Jenkins tells the marchers there are no registers today. A small demonstration is held outside. 

Sources: Chicago Defender (March 2 was the demonstration, March 3 is the article dateline.)

Details from – 1965selma

March 5, 1965 – Camden 

Camden Alabama March by Blacks Fails

A march of 200 led by Johnny Lee Jones of Selma from St. Francis Church marched to the courthouse are turned back with batons and tear gas. Marchers are notified that there will be a larger march in Selma on March 7th. Hundreds of Wilcox County residents organize carpools to travel to participate in that march which turned into Bloody Sunday.

Source: Chicago Defender. Accounts by residents to author, Maria Gitin.

Notes: This march was organized by SCLC Dan Harrell and the students. Johnny Lee Jones came over with other students and activists to participate. This demonstration was 3 days before Bloody Sunday in Selma.

March 6-25th Camden

Wilcox marches continued during this time. Outside organizers and students from Sela came to assist with one or more demonstrations. Dr. King and Dorothy Cotton participated in at least one of the demonstrations.

March 7, 9 and 21-25th – Selma to Montgomery

Selma to Montgomery marches – Many Wilcox County activists traveled to Selma to participate in three most famous marches: Bloody Sunday (the 7th), “Turn Around Tuesday” (the 9th) and the March to Montgomery (21-25). As demonstrations continued in Selma, there were continuous demonstrations in Camden and elsewhere in Alabama throughout March and April. Many SNCC and SCLC activists went back and forth between Selma and Camden to join the Camden marches.

Sources: eyewitnesses accounts to authorFor detailed timeline of Selma to Montgomery marches:

March 7 Sunday- Selma

Bloody Sunday” march in Selma led by SNCC’s Chairman John Lewis and SCLC’s project director Hosea Williams, also organized by SCLC’s James Bevel. Over 600 people were stopped by state troopers and the county sheriff’s posse. They were beaten, tear-gassed by canisters launched from tear gas guns, and beaten by police under Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark and state troopers ordered by Alabama Director of Public Safety Colonel Al Lingo. People were injured and arrested in large numbers. Dr. King was not present but approved of the original march plan. Many students and adults from Wilcox County were there.

Source: Established history with eyewitnesses’ accounts. Cleo Brooks of Coy, stated that the community of Coy had more residents on the bridge than any community in the state.

March 8, 1965 Monday – National TV 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr appears on national television to call for help, requesting people to flood into Selma to create a tidal wave of humanity that would get the world’s attention and keep the marchers safe.

Authors note: This is what the I saw in San Francisco, along with footage from the Bloody Sunday march in Selma. This march and Dr. King’s subsequent “call to action” inspired hundreds of white college students and young ministers to head South to participate in a massive voter registration drive.

March 9, 1965 – “Turn Around Tuesday” in Selma

On Monday, Federal Judge Johnson issued an injunction forbidding any attempt to march to Montgomery while he pondered SCLC’s petition for federal protection of a march to the capital. On Tuesday, several thousand people, including many from out of state, gathered at Brown Chapel to march in response to Dr King’s call. In a move still debated by movement veterans, Dr. King led a march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the point before they would violate Judge Johnson‘s order. There they stopped, knelt and prayed, and then turned around and returned to the church. 

Source: posted interviews with participants. See Timeline 1965.

Later that evening, Rev. James Reeb, and two other white Unitarian ministers who had come to Selma to support the voting-rights campaign were attacked and savagely beaten by a gang of white racists. Rev Reeb suffered life-threatening injuries and taken to a Birmingham hospital.

March 11, 1965 – Birmingham, AL

Rev. James Reeb dies and the death of a white minister appears to prompt Congress to forward with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Source: Author’s conversations with other civil rights veterans 2008-present.

March 15, 1965 Camden Academy

Many alumni recall Dr. King coming to campus on this date. Some also recall a small march downtown on this date. Others state that King came quietly to encourage them to keep up their demonstrations in parallel with actions in Selma. Photos of students being attacked by police helped build pressure on Congress to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

Sources: Mamie Slaughter, Mazie Brewer-Wilmer, Sarah Kimmons and others. 

March 17,1965- US District Court Middle District of Alabama

Hosea Williams v George Wallace The federal district court issues its order permitting the peaceful assembly without interference, and orders Governor Wallace and others to provide adequate police protection to Negro citizens in the exercise of their constitutional rights. The court noted that as of October 1963 zero (0)% of black citizens in Wilcox County were registered to vote.

Source: Williams v Wallace, 240 F.Supp 100, 1965

March 21-25, 1965 Selma to Montgomery 

The historic, federally protected Selma to Montgomery march begins and is completed March 25th after five days of marching, mostly in the rain. Crowd estimates up to 30,000 at the conclusion of the march including dozens from Wilcox County. 

March 25th – Montgomery to Selma 

Viola Liuzzo, a 40-year-old white volunteer from Detroit, is murdered on her way to retrieve more marchers from Montgomery back to Selma after the Montgomery march. Luizzo and 19-year-old Selma activist Leroy Moton are shot at by Klansmen, including an undercover agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Sources: eyewitness participants and established history 

March 31, 1965 – Camden

Negroes Halted by Smoke Bombs

An attempted convergence of two demonstrations, one organized by SCLC from St Francis church that included young people and adults from Gees Bend and Coy as well as Camden, and another that started from the campus of Camden Academy on the opposite side of town. Dan Harrell and Major Johns of SCLC are cited as leaders of the St Francis contingent.

Note: The marchers were disbursed with smoke canisters, however since tear gas had already been used, the students did not know if it was smoke or tear gas. Also, the press took the sheriff’s word for what he and his posse men used. The article cites Dan Harrell as saying that 50 blacks were registered in March due to the protests.

Source: Roy Reed special to the New York Times published April 1, 1965. NY Times lists Major Johns and Dan Harrell as organizers from St. Francis Church to the town limits (would be near Antioch Baptist) Photo by Bill Hudson. 

Note: Student in center: Willie Parker of Coy. This photo is on the cover of This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight (University of Alabama Press 2014).

This becomes the most widely covered of Wilcox County marches. 

Additional articles and film on March 31st march 

Camden Smoke Bombs Alabama Children

A march on March 31st consisted of two groups, one of adults and students from St Francis Church on Highway 221led by Dan Harrell of SCLC and one of 100 students coming downhill onto Claiborne Street from Camden Academy. They attempted to march on the courthouse but were turned back by smoke bombs thrown at the direction of Mayor Reginald Albritton. The mayor stood and laughed because the students expected tear gas since it had been used the day before. 

Source: Chicago Defender, New York Times and personal recollections of students told to author Maria Gitin. There is a You Tube video of this march:

April 1, 1965 – Camden

Alabama Town Awaits New Demonstrations by Joe Zellner

Long article on the same March 31st demonstration covers a march from Antioch Baptist Church and return to Camden Academy with several additional paragraphs and student names at end. 

Source: Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg. Dateline April 1 covers event on March 31. 

Smoke Bomb for Demonstrators

Source: Ocala Star Banner

Note: The Ocala Star article covers the same march from Antioch Baptist Church but omits mention of the students return to Camden Academy. The article has a photo of students being attacked that is not included in Free Lance-Star

April 2, 1965 – Camden

March is Blocked at Camden 2D Day: Mayor and Deputies Bar Walk to Courthouse

Camden Academy Students and Gees Benders are quoted about a renewed effort to march. 

Source: Chicago Defender This took place on April 1 and was published on April 2nd.

Author’s note: Interviewed former students stated that demonstrators from Coy, Gees Bend and other communities were involved as well. There were weeks of weekday marches both from the church and from the school for the rest of the school year, for much of April and May. This accounts for conflicting memories of the weather, starting locations and dates. 

April 6, 1965 – Camden

 Use Smoke, Tear Gas on Ala Demonstrators

Eleven (11) arrested in a third march in the same week. Smoke bombs and tear gas both were used. Adults began at either St. Francis or Antioch Baptist Church and students marched downhill from the Camden Academy

Source: Chicago Defender

Author’s note:  Some former students I interviewed said that the police tried to confuse them by using both smoke and tear gas bombs shot from big barrel guns. The police then mocked the students if they panicked when it was smoke instead of tear gas. As time went on the student organizers gave the youth wet towels to cover their faces before leaving campus to march. 

April 8, 1965 – Camden 

Camden Cops Grab Banner from Selma

Covers the April 6 march and mentions a white demonstrator being beaten. Eyewittness and participants saw a white reporter beaten. There is a photo of a white man with bleeding head. This also could be a report on the April 6 march, datelined two days later. 

Source: Chicago Defender by reporter Daniel Leon on an April 7th

April 9, 1965 – Camden

Dr King spoke at Antioch Baptist Church in conjunction with a march that same day. It was the first-time Wilcox County demonstrators secured a permit to march. 600 marchers marched from the church to the courthouse. 

Source: Dorothy Walker, Alabama Historical Society in an e-mail to author dated 6.9.09. Mrs. Walker stated this is the only record of King coming to the church in 1965 they have on file. Friends Charles Bonner and Bob Block were there. 

April 10, 1965 – Camden

Smoke Bombs Halt New Wave of Alabama Marchers

Quotes Camden Academy students Ralph Eggleston and Charles Mimms.  Photo of 19 year old white civil rights worker Jim “Arkansas” Benson, being beaten by Camden city police. 

Source: Chicago Defender special by Leon Daniel. 

April 10, 1965 is also the day that a policeman shoved a shotgun into the chest of 12-year old Frances Johnson, from Camden Academy. She famously said, ” “Mister, you do what you gotta do,  but I ain’t movin’ for nobody.”.” 

Source: Strider Benston and others who were there. As told to students in Camden in 2015 by Benston

April 12, 1965 – Camden 

Some recall a march on this date. No further information was available.

April 20, 1965 – Camden 

Dr. King came through on another whirlwind tour of Alabama while a 200-person march was already underway. The same date, the state of Alabama secured a federal injunction against Dr. King to prevent him from using children to march and demonstrate. 

Source: Chicago Defender.

Note: The State had no basis for this charge since the students and adults in each community were planning their own strategies. Dr. King, John Lewis and others came to offer support and encouragement. King did not organize any events in Alabama himself. He was the inspirational leader, but the press and politicians saw as the only leader.

April 21,1965 – US Court of Appeals 5th Circuit Alabama

Federal Court of Appeals finds “substantial un-contradicted evidence” that registration officials in Wilcox Countywere applying the supporting witness (voucher) requirement in a discriminatory fashion. Records disclosed only one instance of a Black person attempting to obtain a white voter as a supporting witness.

Source: US v Logue, 344 F2d 290 (1965)

April 21, 1965 – Camden 

Camden civil rights leaders declare they will protest daily until allowed to register and to vote. They do so and continue until school a few weeks before school let out at the end of May. 

Source: Chicago Daily Defender and Camden Academy Alumni reports. 

May 6, 1965 – Camden

13-year-old Walter Wilson is publicly beaten by Mayor Albritton for participating in marches from the Camden Academy. His family flees town.”

Source: Chicago Daily Defender

Note: According to the older brother of Walter, Sim Pettway Sr., the beating took place at their home and that it was because of his civil rights activities, not Walter’s. Walter is deceased but Sim Pettway Sr. told the story of his family being forced to flee to Prichard outside Mobile, AL at a 45th anniversary mass meeting in Camden, AL and detailed the attack in This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Wilcox County Voting Rights Fight, University of Alabama Press, 2014.

Source: Sim Pettway author in March 2010.

June – August 1965 SCLC’S Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project – Wilcox County 

SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Project) SCOPE (Summer Community Organization and Education)project, directed by Rev. Hosea Williams, augmented an already active Alabama Voter Education Project in an attempt to coordinate all local activities into a single focus on voter registration. As many as 600 black and white college students were assigned to six states for ten weeks after attending a 5.5 day 14 hr a day intensive Orientation in Atlanta, GA June 14-19, 1965. 

In Wilcox County, five white northern student volunteers joined SCLC’s Daniel and Juanita Harrell and Major Johns, three white seminary students from California and some SNCC field workers from Selma to support local leaders in voter education, voter registration and leadership development. Several local leaders and student activists attended the Atlanta Orientation, more joined the project in Wilcox. 

Many students joined this effort and led the outside workers to homes where potential voters lived. Others who had been active all Spring had graduated or gone to visit relatives so do not recall this summer. In order to reduce the potential for injury and arrest all efforts focused voter and a boycott of businesses that refused to hire Black residents. Local student and adult leaders agreed to suspend demonstrations for the summer at the request of the national office of SCLC.  

Sources: John Worcester, SCOPE materials. 

One of the activist teachers, Mr. Albert Gordon, took a group of women students to other Alabama counties where they would not be recognized to work on voter registration there.  Source: Betty Anderson

June 9, 1965 – Montgomery

SCLC files a federal complaint to force registrars in Alabama to comply with federal voter registration laws. SCLC’s Summer Community Organization and Political Education project began the next day. 

Source: Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge

June 20, 1965 – Atlanta

Dr King Opens Rights Drive Tuesday

Mentions SCLC SCOPE project orientation in Atlanta and plans for the summer.

Source: New York Times

June 20 – SCLC SCOPE Volunteers Arrive in Camden 

Workers trained in Atlanta arrived in the middle of the night to work with Dan and Major Johns of SCLC.  White men surrounded Antioch Baptist Church where we slept and shot off guns to welcome us to Wilcox.

June 22, 1965

The SCLC SCOPE office at Antioch is guarded by local youth who are attacked for the first time inside the church. They escape but the office is ransacked. 

June 23, 1965 – Camden

While canvassing the Sawmill Quarter, five SCOPE workers and local youth workers are arrested and held for a few hours at the jail. The sheriff’s posse planted moonshine student leader Don Green and kept him in jail longer than the others. One black youth, is beaten so badly that when he is released, he is taken to the hospital in Selma.

SCOPE office at Antioch Baptist was ransacked in the middle of the night. 

Source: SCLC report files. This and many SCLC reports were dated a day later than the events took place.

June 28, 1965 – Camden

Eighteen (18) SCOPE-SCLC and local civil rights workers are arrested at Antioch Baptist Church and booked into the Camden jail without due process. Local student activist Don Green is beaten in front of us and thrown into solitary confinement when a knife is discovered in his sock. White summer volunteer student Mike Farley is put in a cell with a violent white prisoner and beaten mercilessly throughout the night. We are released a few at a time. All are released within five days but none ever know when they will be either released or attacked. Leaders Albert Gordon and Major Johns were arrested along with six white civil rights workers and the following Black youth: Don Green, Lester Core, John Davis, Roosevelt Washington, Johnny Jackson, Calister Wright, George Shamburger, Elmo Jones, Harris Knight, Ashley Stallworth

Source: Author was eyewitness-participant, saved a letter from that date, and field report from John Worcester to SCLC. 

June 28, 1965

Sheriff Lummie Jenkins tells local Negro cafe owners, Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds that they cannot any longer serve white civil rights workers. Mr. Reynold asks white civil rights workers to please leave and not bring trouble to his store, so we do. We did not eat there the rest of the summer.

Source: Author’s letter home

June 29, 1965 – Camden

Masked men beat youth guarding SCLC office at Antioch Baptist Church. Three are beaten badly. Two are hospitalized; one suffers permanent traumatic brain injury. Three of the Klansmen are identified by the youth but none are arrested or serve sentences. Names of the youth and their attackers are included in the author’s book.

Source: Eyewitness accounts at the time and author’s own presence immediately afterwards. Interview with two of the survivors.  

Reports in SCOPE papers state that there were 8 youth attacked by 5 masked men and that two were beaten. Incident Report. p 367 SCOPE of Freedom, filed by J. Worcester, one of the white seminarians working with SCLC. However, the names he lists are incorrect according to eye witness-participants. They were mixed up with other evenings when the church was being guarded and there was trouble with less violence.

June 30, 1965

The mayor informed SCOPE workers that anyone found in the church after dark would be arrested for public nuisance and taken into protective custody.

Source: Incident Report. p 367 SCOPE of Freedom.

July 1, 1965 – Camden

The New York Times reports a different version of the June 29th incident with the local sheriff (PC Lummie Jenkins) stating that the boys’ injuries were slight and that both boys were released from the hospital immediately. 

Source: New York Times

Author’s note: Frank Connor told this author that he was near death and was hospitalized for months. This author witnessed one other young man with a bandaged head many days after the incident.

July 2, 1965 –Camden 

Alabama Sheriff Locks Church

Sheriff Jenkins tells the press that the church deacons asked our SCOPE headquarters be locked after the attack. 

Source: Associated Press, New York Times. The date on the SCOPE staff incident report in SCOPE of Freedom is incorrect. [p 367 Leventhal]

Author’s note: This was untrue. The Sheriff moved us out of the office at gunpoint. I was among those present as we were assessing the damage caused the night before, during the Klansmen’s violent attack on our youth. 

The correct date was June 29th and there were eight young men, all locals affiliated with SCLC and /or working with the SCOPE program of SCLC that summer. All were African-American. Five escaped before three were beaten, two badly enough to be hospitalized. A July 3, 1965 article in the Chicago Defender supports this claim.

July 4, 1965

Bootleg liquor was planted in Don Green’s car and he was arrested again although he had just been bailed out by SCOPE.

Source: Author was told by SCLC leaders Harrell and Johns. J. Worcester report to SCLC Atlanta office 

July 8, 1965 – Camden

Three carloads of civil rights workers shot at by white men after being stopped by police. They were trying to leave town to avoid wrath of whites after Gov. Wallace rally in Camden attended by thousands.

Source: author notes, J. Worcester report to SCLC

July 9, 1965 – Incident out in County (Arlington) 

SCLC SCOPE and local canvassers forced off highway by white man in a pick-up brandishing a rifle.

Source: SCOPE incident report plus author wrote about incident with Robert Powell of Camden.

July 12, 1965 – Camden

600 Students Preach Rights Gospel in South

This Washington Post article was carried in most national and many local papers including The San Francisco Chronicle. This lengthy article is largely critical of our SCLC SCOPE effort in Wilcox. 

Source: Washington Post Special by reporter Paul Good, on file at

July 14, 1965 – Camden

SCOPE Offices Reopen

Tells the real story that Sheriff Jenkins made the deacons board up the church because our office was there. Rev Freeman defied the sheriff and re-opened the office for our group, bringing even more danger to the church and to our field workers.

Source: Chicago Daily Defender and personal recollection.

July 18, 1965 – Anniston, AL 

Willie Brewster is killed less than 200 miles northeast of Camden. The men who shot him belonged to the National States Rights Party, a violent neo-Nazi group whose members had been involved in church bombings and murders of black activists in the region. 

Source: Civil rights martyrs.

August 6, 1965 – Washington DC

President Johnson finally signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the legislation which we had been waiting for all summer. It is months before federal examiners reach Wilcox County and years before African Americans achieve enough political power to become the majority of elected officials. 

August 11, 1965 – Los Angeles, California 

Watts, a predominantly poor African American neighborhood in Los Angeles, is besieged by police and national guard troops after a crowd responded to what they deemed an unjust, unnecessarily rough arrest of a drunken driver. Pent up rage over poverty, poor housing conditions and racial profiling by police erupts into full-scale riots including burning white owned stores and destruction of over 200 buildings. 

August 20, 1965 – Hayneville AL

White civil rights worker Jon Daniels assassinated by a sheriff’s deputy while trying to protect a black civil rights worker. 

Source:  Author interviews 2005 & 2010 with Jimmy Rogers, SNCC, survivor/witnesses of the attack,

September 1965-Camden 

Immediately after thousands of first time Black voters were registered, Wilcox County joined a state of Alabamalawsuit asking the federal government to purge voting records and re-register all voters using the old literacy tests and ‘voucher’ system. They also petitioned to require poll watchers to allow voters no more than three minutes to cast their ballots. The three-minute requirement made voting nearly impossible as many of the voters were newly literate and none were comfortable completing forms in a hurry.

Source: Susan Youngblood Ashmore “Carry it On: The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama 1964-1972

Fall 1965-Spring 1966 – Alabama 

Governor Wallace continues to fight in court against implementing the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Voters and civil rights activists are harassed, fired, threatened, fired and put off their property, especially in isolated rural areas like Wilcox County. Teachers at Camden Academy and elsewhere lose their jobs in retribution for their work in the movement and fight for school equality. Despite this, they continue to work for federal funding, school improvement and fair hiring practices. 

November 1965 –Atlanta

Dr. King announced to the US government Office of Economic Opportunity in November 1965 that partially as an outgrowth of SCOPE that SCLC would continue anti-poverty work. Dan Harrell was to continue this work in Wilcox County into the 1970’s with other local activists who eventually gained some federal funding working to form the Coy Land Movement. They purchased 30 acres of land with the title held by SCLC Wilcox County. 

Source: Oral history from Rosetta Marsh Anderson and Cleo Brooks. 

November 16, 1965 – US Court of Appeals 5th Circuit Montgomery

Rev Lonnie Brown’s 1963 Department of Justice lawsuit to have the right to enter private property for the purpose of registering voters is reinstated by the federal Court of Appeals. Ruling the federal government made a “strong case” the property owners did in fact “intimidate and coerce” the Negro citizens of Wilcox County for “the purpose of interfering with their right to vote.”

Source: U.S. Court of Appeals, (1965), U.S. v. Bruce, 353 2d 474. 

November 23,1965- US District Court For the Southern District of Alabama

Federal court declares it is the duty of Alabama Judges, including Wilcox County Judge Dannelly among others to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and to place on official voting lists of their counties, names furnished by federal examiners. They also declared it is the duty of Judges to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Alabama judges claimed to have been in a conflict due to a previous Alabama court decision. The federal court voided all such orders. 

Source: Reynolds v. Katzenbach, 248 F. Supp 593, 1965 

December 1965 – Camden

Rev. TL Threadgill and his family are evicted from their home and church on Camden Academy campus. Both he and his wife lose their jobs because of participation in the voting right movement. Their home and chapel are destroyed by the Wilcox County board of education. Dozens of teachers and other activists lose their jobs as schools are forced to integrate. Some white teachers are assigned to previously all black schools. White VISTA workers from the north arrive to teach in some of the all-black schools that lost teachers who were wrongfully terminated. 

Source: Sheryl Threadgill, Shadow of Selma

December 11, 1965 – Camden 

Presbyterian Church sends financial aid to teachers fired from Camden Academy for participating in voting rights movement.

Source: Chicago Defender

1966-1967 –Camden

In 1966 Wilcox County Superintendent of Schools Guy S. Kelly wrote to Governor Wallace requesting assistance in blocking the federal desegregation orders of the federal government. Wallace gladly complied by filing petition after petition on behalf of all of the state’s all white schools. 

Source: Susan Youngblood Ashmore Carry it On: The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama 1964-1972 pg 97

ACSC Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service of the USDA was the conduit for federal farm allotment distribution. Each county had its own ACSC committee. This was the group that Rev John Golden, Dan Harrell and many other locals were worked with to try to get African Americans elected in the Fall of 1965. Candidates and voters alike were threatened, harassed and attacked. Eventually, in 1966, ten black farmers were able to get elected to this committee, however other county officials continued to block their access to black farmers fair share.  SNCC vote observers recorded instances of white officials intimidating black voters and of outright fraudulent vote counts. 

Source: Susan Youngblood Ashmore Carry it On: The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama 1964-1972, pg 143.

SNCC activists Stokely Carmichael and James Bevel spend time in Wilcox working with student activists while they are conducting a major voting rights battle in nearby Lowndes County.

Source: Activist Jesse Smith of Lower Peachtree in conversation with author

Civil Rights Pioneer and SCLC Education Director Septima Clark and SCLC Program Director Dorothy Cottonwere in Wilcox County teaching literacy and citizenship classes to Wilcox County residents. 

Source: Reports and photos by SCLC photographer Bob Fitch.

January 23, 1966 – Camden 

Less than six months after we left, JT Reaves, a white farmer shot and killed local activist David Colston age 32 in public, right in front of his family. Rev Dan HarrellRev Frank Smith and many other black community members who were coming out of a funeral and planning to return to attend a mass meeting at Antioch Baptist Church also witnessed the attack. There was a large demonstration the next day. Reaves was not convicted of any crime.  

 Sources: New York Times Jan 24, 1966. Jet Magazine with photo by Bob Fitch who was there.

February 1966 – Camden

Dr. King came to Camden to reassure students and adults after the Colston murder. He visited with the Threadgills.He came to Camden Academy campus to talk with Principal Hobbs and Rev. Threadgill.

Source: Cynthia Griggs Fleming, Rosetta Anderson, Robert Finklea

March 10, 1966 – Jet Magazine

“An ex-basketball player and Korean war veteran, Walter C. Calhoun, a lean 32-year old 6’2” former grocer, announced that he is running against Sheriff PC Lummie Jenkins. 

March 1966  Montgomery AL

Federal District Judge Frank M. Johnson and Richard T. Reaves rule that the Alabama poll tax violates the 15th Amendment of the US Constitution.

April 29, 1966  – Camden 

Dr. King in Camden on a whirlwind tour of counties in AL, King spoke from a trailer in front of Antioch Baptist Church because his aides had been informed the church would be firebombed if he went inside. SCLC staff Hosea Williams and Fred Shuttlesworth, as well as King’s children Yolanda and Dexter were with him. Fifteen hundred (1500) were in attendance including Rosetta Anderson, and children of Rev LV Baldwin. Civil Rights Photographer Bob Adelman took many of his famous Dr. King photos that day. Dan Harrell was there. Everyone looks very serious because they have been threatened, and are still being harassed daily. The state of Alabama was still filing objections to the federal court against allowing the new black voters to vote and Gov. Wallace told the county registrars they did not need to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1965. 

Sources: eyewitnesses to author, Dated photographs by Bob Adelman.

May 3, 1966 – Camden

The ballot for a national primary includes state and local Black candidates for the first time. Walter J. Calhoun, James Robinson, James Perryman, Lonnie Brown and Donnie Irby ran for county offices on the People’s Choice Platform and campaigned vigorously. Although the Black voter turnout was excellent, all the African American candidates were defeated.

Sources: Susan Ashmore, and Bob Fitch photos of campaign materials.  

August 30, 1966 US Court of Appeals 5th Circuit Alabama 

Federal Court of Appeals confirmed the Wilcox County Board of Education operated a segregated school system and that no Negro students ever attended a White Wilcox school. Further delay was unjustified since it had been 12 years since Brown v. Board of Education and ordered the Board of Education to set up a free choice plan for grades 1,2,3,7,8, and 9 by September 6th, a week later.

Source: US v. Wilcox County Board of Education, 366 F2d 769 (1966)


Southwest Alabama Farmers Cooperative Association (SWAFCA) was founded and became a ten county farmers marketing and supply cooperative to serve Black farmers based in Selma. It had a Wilcox branch and briefly became the launching pad for a possible third party The National Democratic Party of Alabama. The Association was active in getting locals elected, but did not have much effect on national elections. 


Student demonstrations for better schools which began in 1965 continue. Several students attempt to integrate the white schools and are mistreated. The Wilcox School Board resists desegregation orders until 1973 by which time they open a Central High School which no white students attend. They dismantle all except one historically black school and open white private Christian schools. This important history cries out for historians and researchers to explore in greater depth.

Summer 1967 – Wilcox County

Southern Rural Research Project (SRRP) volunteers conduct a study of poverty in the black community that is pivotal in a Supreme Court Case that eventually assists black farmers in getting allocations from the County Agricultural and Stabilization Board. The SRRP report documents white county officials ongoing efforts to block the distribution of federal assistance to which they are entitled.

March 21, 1968 Dr. King Visits Camden for the Last Time

We don’t have a record of what Dr. King did or who he saw but his unplanned overnight in Camden prolonged his life for a week.  James Earl Ray, under his alias “Eric Galt” learned of King’s planned appearance in Selma to gather support for the Poor Peoples Campaign. He traveled to Selma intending to kill King the next day. 

Source: An article in the New Orleans Picayune cited in Hampton Sides, Hellhound on his Trail, Anchor Books, 2011. 

April 4, 1968 – Memphis Tennessee

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated by a thief named James Earl Ray. Ray fled the country with a valid US passport and was captured two months later in the United Kingdom. 

November 1978         Wilcox County

Sheriff Prince Arnold becomes the first black sheriff and first black elected official in Wilcox County, 13 years after the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed. He continues to serve for 32 years and is in office as of March 2010. In the same election, Jesse Brooks Sr. of Coy is elected as first black Tax Collector for Wilcox County although he does not take office until January while the Sheriff takes over immediately, making him the first African American elected in Wilcox.

Source: Sheriff Prince Arnold and other Wilcox residents to author in 2010.

1979 – Coy, Alabama

SCLC field director and Wilcox County civil rights activist Rev. Dan Harrell was murdered on Sunday January 7, 1979 by Jim Saulsberry of Coy under suspicious circumstances. Saulsberry claimed self-defense and was not charged.  

Source: Wilcox Progressive Era, interviews with two of Dan’s brothers, his son and conversation with Sheriff Prince Arnold. 

1983    Wilcox County

Additional Black candidates are elected including the first County Commissioner. 

1987    Wilcox County

Rural residents (87% black) finally get county water and sewer lines hooked up.

2006    Camden – Gees Bend

Ferry service to Gees Bend restored with great fanfare. Elderly residents can now get to medical services in fifteen minutes instead of an hour’s drive. More importantly, a 44-year old injustice is recognized and reversed. 

November 4, 2008 – Washington DC

Barack Hussein Obama is elected as the first African heritage President of the United States.

March 1, 2010           Camden, Selma

In 2010, The National Voting Rights Museum selected Camden as the first in a series of 45th anniversary commemorative events in honor of the Selma to Montgomery march.  Monday March 1st march with Dr. King from Antioch Baptist Church to the Wilcox County courthouse has long been observed in Camden.. The event was coordinated by Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews and others with the NVRM. 

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