Selma Voting Rights Struggle Students




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The Selma Voting Rights Struggle

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The Selma Voting Rights Struggle


The right to suffrage is a universal right which should not be denied by virtue of skin complexion. Denial of this right is what led to the Selma March in Alabama in 1960s. This paper gives a bottom-up as well as a top-down perspective of what happened and concludes by giving the differences and trade-offs between both perspectives.

The Bottom-up Perception

The march was majorly motivated by the fact that this right had not been provided for by the Civil Rights Act or the year before. The white chauvinists in power used every possible way for instance economic, lawful and extra-legal methods to deny the colored their voting privileges. Although students struggled alone, the establishment and organization of the actions of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was tough but indispensable since they served as their mentors. This was because in spite of the populace of the Black-Americans beings far greater than that of White-Americans, they were deprived of the opportunity to vote by the white elites who used tests for literacy, brutality and economic oppression to ensure that the status quo was maintained.

The civil rights activists totally advocated for non-violent means in public demonstrations. They only instance where they used violence, was to defend themselves when attacked by whites who usually did that outside the glare of the public. A practice of self defense had been ingrained in the activities of the SNCC and this was because the federal law police officers did not afford these leaders enough protection so as to keep activities of the movement vibrant. A good instance is that of Brian Lafayette who was brutally attacked by whites outside his home in Selma in a bid to suppress the Black activism. It is his neighbor who saved his life by shooting in the air so as to scare away his aggressors.

All levels of the government institutions conspired and were hell-bent on ensuring that the black people did not vote. It was not possible for the African Americans to be registered as voters despite the persistent efforts of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and the Dallas County Voters League. The office of the registrar operated twice monthly and even so most of the likely applicants were rejected although they were literate. Most workers including teachers were dismissed from their jobs without cause for being involved in the SNCC movement. Their activities were further hampered by an injunction issued by the courts that made it unlawful for more than three people to congregate while pretending to address the rights of the blacks to vote.

The activities organized by SNCC at the grassroots level that involved voter registration brought about change in that it gave an insight to the lawyers at the justice department on the need for more legislation on additional voting rights which filled the gaps left out by the Civil Rights Act. They played an important role in showing the pervasive, inexorable discrimination that potential colored voters were facing. These activities assisted officials to document discrimination in their personal voting rights law suits filed against chauvinistic white registrars. The slow nature of their cases helped to demonstrate the sorry state of affairs and coax the Justice Department that a more uniform approach was required.

The Top-down Perspective

Unlike the in the bottom up perception, this view reveals that the police and authorities prevented the blacks from converging and holding meetings in public because Selma was too dangerous for the black people. This was widely perceived among the black community as an attempt to curtail down on their right of the freedom to assembly. An instance of an unprecedented attack was an attack that almost turned when the Lafayettes combined a memorial service for Mr. Boynton with a workshop for voting and a rally. The whites surrounded the church they were in, and they had to stay inside until 1 a.m. this threat could not have occurred had they heeded the advice of not converging.

The leaders of the movement were hypocritical. In the public gallery they pretended to advocate against the use of violence but when they retreated to private places and their residences they encouraged retaliatory attacks. This can be demonstrated by the fact that most of them were armed and even Lafayette himself was involved in an incidence of shooting against the whites.

While it is true that the regime did not favor the African American community in terms of allowing them their liberties and constitutional rights, most of the people who agitated for the right to vote were school going children who had not yet attained the age of majority. Some of the irrational demands were as a result of constant incitement from the SNCC leadership. SNCC and other activists such as Martin Luther who joined in January 1965 came in to enhance publicity and assist as mentors thus making the campaigns more effective.

The justice department was well aware of the disparity and unfairness that was witnessed in the registration of voters. They were taking all the necessary steps and measures to ensure that they were integrated into the process. Although slow, the gradual incorporation of blacks into the system was the surest way to do it as it would have minimum resistance from the whites and was also a permanent solution.

Trade-offs Between Bottom-up and Top-down Perceptions

An objective view of this march reveals that the cause for agitation was the quest for change of the status quo by one side and the resistance to change by the other. While both sides were in agreement that was need to embrace change in the system, they were not in agreement on how to do it.

To the Africans, the change was supposed to be drastic while the authorities on the other hand believed in implementing it in a gradual way. Another difference in their perspectives is that while the blacks viewed the authorities with suspicion, the authorities felt that they were doing all that they could possibly do to ensure a smooth integration into the system. Lastly was the difference in ideology. The African Americans felt that they achieve their goals by demonstrating in the streets while the authorities felt that using more formal methods such as the courts and Justice Department could suffice.


The Selma march marked a historical moment in the struggle against the white supremacy in Alabama. The three times attempt to march from Selma which was marred by police brutality was an eye opener to both sides. To the blacks, despite achieving their goal of ultimately being allowed to protest en masse, they learnt that they must use legal methods to agitate their needs since they were only allowed by a court order. The authorities on the other hand appreciated that the rights of the fellow human beings must upheld despite the racial difference.

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