On July 20, 1965, Mary Kate Bell, Lena Turner,
Mamie Campbell, and Gloria Wise challenged voter registration laws
They stood in the white women’s voting line during a special election
for a justice of the peace. In
this WSB clip, Hosea
Williams and John
Lewis hold a press conference a few days later in Atlanta on
July 26, 1965, to address the escalating racial tension in southwest
Local authorities asked the women to move and arrested them for
resisting. Members of the Americus Merchants Association
agreed to post bond, but, after consulting their lawyer C.
B. King, the women decided to remain in jail until the city
dropped all charges and released them.
As the representative for the
SCLC, Williams calls attention here to racist voter registration
procedures in Sumter
County. He states that a massive integration effort combining
demonstrations and pickets will occur in Americus until the city
meets their demands. In addition to securing the women’s release
from jail, he asks city officials to reschedule the special election,
to appoint a black voter registrar, to provide police protection
for all citizens, and to create a biracial committee.
Following a mass protest meeting, the activists launched an all-day,
all-night vigil around the Sumter County Courthouse that began Tuesday,
July 27, 1965. Later, over two hundred people turned out for a nonviolent
demonstration through Americus to the courthouse, to increase
the pressure on local authorities to take the marchers’ demands
As a result of Williams’s press conference and the demonstrations,
the city of Americus released the four jailed women on Friday, July
30, 1965. The city eventually formed a biracial committee to address
the mounting racial tensions.
In his effort to challenge segregation, Williams unified the activists
in Americus with national Civil
Rights Movement organizations. Like the
King and the
Reverend Ralph Abernathy in Albany,
he helped to bring the country's focus to the struggle in Americus.
This clip also demonstrates the important role that women played
on the front lines of the Movement. Women
activists often worked
behind the scenes--typing, making phone calls, organizing mass meetings,
hosting visitors in their homes. The events of the summer of 1965
in Americus showed how women participated at the forefront of the
Resource (click here)
1. When you think of prison inmates, what images come to mind?
What kinds of crimes do you think about? How did the marchers of
Americus challenge stereotypes about prisoners and instead
suggest how jail could be a transformative experience? Read our
Theater Comes to Atlanta in the Freedom on Film Atlanta
pages and discuss
what needs to be done in your community to counter negative attitudes
towards released prisoners and reform conditions inside such institutions.
2. Read Dr. King's "Letter
from a Birmingham Jail" (1963). How does King describe
his imprisonment as an effective form of civil rights activism?
3. Visit the SCLC's
web site. The organization's home page invites readers to "Join
Our Beloved Community." What was Dr. King's concept of the
beloved community? How does this story about the four women activists
and the SCLC in Americus model King's concept of the beloved community?
Take it to the Streets!
On March 21, 1965, a few months before this incident occured in
Americus, Matt Herron snapped a photograph of civil rights marchers
crossing the Edmund
Pettus Bridge in protest of the lack of voting
rights in Selma, Alabama. This has become one of the most famous
photographs of the Movement. Visit the photograph at the Lyndon
Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Talk
about the kinds of emotions and attitudes that the image evokes.
Compose a scrapbook of several pages using images you have selected
from current magazines and newspapers that suggest such feelings.
Writer: Lauren Chambers
Christina L. Davis, Deborah Stanley, and Diane Trap
Lauren Chambers, Aggie Ebrahimi, Courtney Thomas, and Professor
Site Designer: William Weems
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