October 7th, 1963

State Troopers Beat Black Voter Registrants in Selma, Alabama

In 1963, representatives of civil rights organizations such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Dallas County Voter's League (DCVL) organized African American residents of Selma, Alabama, to challenge discriminatory voting registration practices that, in 1961, limited registration to less than one percent of eligible African Americans. During early 1963, their efforts were met with harassment and violent resistance from Sheriff Jim Clark, other local law enforcement officers, and Sheriff Clark's segregationist supporters who participated in violence against African Americans with impunity. Hundreds of African Americans were arrested, beaten, or threatened in Selma during the first half of 1963.

On the morning of October 7, 350 African American residents of Selma lined up at the county courthouse and attempted to register in what SNCC and DCVL called “Freedom Day.” The registrars intentionally slowed down the proceedings, limiting registration to only a few people every hour and ensuring that only a handful of those waiting in line would be able to register. Sheriff Clark, his deputies, and supprters forbade Freedom Day participants from leaving the line to eat, drink, or use the restroom.

At 12:30 pm, a group of 40 state troopers arrived and assisted local law enforcement in intimidating the Freedom Day participants. At one point, a group of organizers attempting to bring food and water to the African Americans waiting in line were beaten and shocked with cattle prods by the state troopers. A reporter was also beaten by state troopers. Representatives of the FBI and the Department of Justice witnessed the proceedings, but did not intervene.