Violence Against Civil Rights Workers

08.01.13

(AP Photo/Bill Hudson) (6305031269)

For a century following the Civil War, African Americans were the targets of a campaign of terror consisting of brutality and violence which served to maintain and bolster segregation in the South. This campaign of terror persisted during the Civil Rights Movement. Courageous activists were subjected to threats, mass arrests, beatings, church bombings, and murder. The criminal justice system turned a blind eye to the terrorism, often refusing to protect activists or prosecute perpetrators.

In 1955, Lamar Smith, a farmer and World War I veteran, was shot and murdered on a crowded courthouse lawn in Brookhaven, Mississippi, for urging blacks to vote. That same year, Reverend George Lee, a grocery store owner, was shot and murdered for organizing black voters in the Mississippi Delta.

On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, several hundred civil rights marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, were met by an angry mob of state and local lawmen who brutally attacked the marchers. Months later, Jonathan Daniels, a white seminary student from Boston who traveled to Alabama to help with black voter registration in Lowndes County, was murdered by a deputy sheriff.

Though the intensity of racial violence decreased following the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it created a legacy that has deeply scarred many communities.