Articles

On the Road to Voting Rights: Freedom Day in Selma, 1963

Article. By Howard Zinn. Excerpt from Chapter 5 of You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.
Howard Zinn’s first-hand account of Selma’s Freedom Day in 1963.

Time Periods: 20th Century, People’s Movement: 1961 - 1974
Themes: African American, Civil Rights Movements, Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights, Organizing, Racism & Racial Identity, Social Class

Howard Zinn in Selma, Ala., 1963. Image: Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos.

In the 1960s, Howard Zinn, along with Ella Baker, served as advisers to SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

For teaching about the Civil Rights Movement in Selma, here is Zinn’s first-hand account from Selma’s Freedom Day on October 7, 1963. “The idea was to bring hundreds of people to register to vote, hoping that their numbers would decrease fear. And there was much to fear,” Zinn writes. 

The following excerpt is from Chapter 5 of Zinn’s autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train and is followed by related resources about Selma’s voting rights campaign, Freedom Day, and SNCC.


By Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, James Baldwin, and a journalist on Freedom Day in Selma, Alabama, October 7, 1963.

I traveled to Selma, Alabama, in October 1963 as an adviser to SNCC, to observe its voter registration campaign there, which had been accompanied by a number of acts of intimidation and violence. The town was the seat of Dallas County, whose population was 57-percent black, with 1 percent of those registered to vote. (Sixty-four percent of whites were registered.)

My experience in Albany had made me especially conscious of the federal role in keeping the institutions of racism going. A systematic failure to enforce civil rights law had marked every national administration since 1877, whether Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. Racism was not southern policy, it was national policy. Selma was an American city.

SNCC had declared October 7 as Freedom Day. The idea was to bring hundreds of people to register to vote, hoping that their numbers would decrease fear. And there was much to fear. John Lewis and seven others were still in jail. Sheriff Jim Clark, huge and bullying, had deputized a force that was armed and on the prowl. To build up courage, people gathered in churches night after night before Freedom Day. The churches were packed as people listened to speeches, prayed, sang.

Continue reading at HowardZinn.org.

 

One comment on “On the Road to Voting Rights: Freedom Day in Selma, 1963

  1. cheryl on

    Thank you for your insightful piece. I appreciated you thoughts on the women of the time. I believe I need to rethink how I approach the Civil Rights in my fifth grade classroom to include more women.

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