Selma and the Voting Rights Act of 1965
‘The die is cast’, said Burke Marshall, head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, to Selma, Alabama’s new Public Safety Director, Wilson Baker, in late November 1964. ‘They’re coming to Selma in January. They’ve already put too much work in on the project to turn back now’.1 Marshall relayed the answer he had received from Martin Luther King, Jr. after telephoning him in Atlanta. Baker had journeyed to Washington to plead with Marshall and Attorney General Robert Kennedy to convince King to cancel SCLC’s planned voting rights campaign in Selma. Toward the end of December, King and SCLC would accept a formal invitation from the Committee of Fifteen, representing all factions within Selma’s black community, to lead a drive to secure the right to vote. Black suffrage had been a major goal for King since 1957, when he led the Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington to demand the ballot. In 1960, SCLC inaugurated the Crusade for Citizenship, a voter registration drive in the South. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 dealt a lethal blow to segregation, it did not guarantee the constitutional right to vote. Having perfected the method of militant nonviolent direct action to a fine art, King and SCLC were now resolved to force the nation to confront the issue of suffrage for black Americans.
KeywordsFederal Government Attorney General Federal Court Civil Disobedience Justice Department
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