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Cities: Americus

Press Conference: Gov. Sanders

In this clip, Governor Carl E. Sanders holds a press conference on August 4, 1965, to discuss the police protection of Americus citizens.  He urges citizens to conduct peaceful protests and to use local courts to resolve their grievances. Sanders also addresses the voter registration crisis in Americus. 

He states that the arrival of state troopers, in addition to the Americus police, provides sufficient protection for black and white citizens alike.  In addressing reporters’ comments about state troopers who are reluctant to take action, Sanders argues that the troopers have the same authority as the Americus police to arrest individuals who purposefully disobey the law.

Lieutenant Governor Peter Zach Geer had sent a telegram to President Lyndon B. Johnson asking for the intervention of federal troops in Americus. However, Governor Sanders feels that the residents of Americus can resolve their own issues peacefully. He also denounces the involvement of what he calls the “outside agitation” of SNCC and SCLC organizers. 

Although Sanders agrees that all citizens should be allowed to vote, he disagrees with the efforts of voter registration drives.  Instead of using such channels to register voters and challenge existing laws, Sanders urges citizens to lodge complaints with the state voter registration board or in superior court.  However, many civil rights workers felt these efforts would do little to change a corrupt system determined to deny black voters.    

The governor's position calls attention to the tension between the federal government's authority and the rights of the state to establish its own agenda for civil rights. The same conflict arose when Lester Maddox defended his right to maintain segregation at his Pickrick Restaurant. Like the Civil War era, the Civil Rights Movement marked a moment when states were forced to concede power to the federal government for the greater good of all its citizens.

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Discussion Questions

1. Why did the federal government send troops to the deep South during Reconstruction (1865-1877)? How similar or different was the government's position on intervening in states' affairs during the 1950s and 1960s?

2. After Reconstruction in Georgia ended, what barriers did the state impose to prevent black Americans from voting? Besides adding more blacks to voter registration rolls, how did the civil rights activists take steps to enfranchise black people?

3. What American groups have tried to prevent other American citizens from voting, and why?

4. Have other minority groups been prohibited from voting in American history? Hint: investigate the history of American citizenship among non-black minorities.

Take it to the Streets!

Go to the University of Southern Mississippi's Oral History Civil Rights Documentation Project. Read the stories of several Freedom Summer activists who came down from the North and Midwest to register voters and educate children and adults. Write a journal entry from a day in the summer of 1964 from the perspective of one of these activists. What would you see? Who would you talk to? What kinds of sacrifices would you make to be an activist during this summer?

Writer: Lauren Chambers   
Editors: 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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