This page provides links to Civil Rights Movement Archive resources that have significant content related to the Alabama Elections of 1966.
CRMA History Articles
Speeches and Articles
Letters & Field Reports
Interviews, Stories & Oral-Histories
The Alabama state and local elections of 1966 — the May primaries and the general election in November — were the first real test of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA).
Back in 1960, less than 10% of Blacks in Alabama were registered to vote, and to actually cast a ballot was an act of defiant courage. But by November of 1966, a year after the VRA went into effect, almost half of the state's African American were registered. In most Alabama counties and districts, Black voters were still substantially outnumbered by whites, but in some areas of the Alabama Black Belt, African Americans held a slim majority of registered voters.
In the Alabama elections of 1966, SNCC and SCLC persued conflicting strategies. To obtain political office, candidates had to win the November general election — which required being on the November ballot. SCLC and the candidates they supported followed the traditional route of running in the May Democratic primary for nomination as Democrats. If they won the primary, they'd be the Democratic candidate on the general election ballot. But if they lost the primary, they'd be out of the race in November. To support Black candidates running in the Democratic primaries, SCLC formed a temporary political organization called the Confederation of Alabama Political Organizations (COAPO).
Rather than run in white-controlled Democratic primaries, the Black candidates supported by SNCC created independent county-level political parties. These independent parties were officially called "Freedom Organizations" — but they were known colloquially as "Black Panther Parties" because of their ballot symbol. If they achived official recognition as a legitimate political party, a county's Panther Party could nominate its own candidates who would appear on the general election ballot in November. But election officials — all of whom were white — were loath to recognize Panther Parties.
Neither strategy proved successful. The federal government completely failed to enforce the Voting Rights Act, protect Black voters from retaliation, ensure a fair and free election, or hold local election officials to the letter of the law.
In many areas across the state, African Americans were evicted from their homes, fired from their jobs, and threatened with violence for daring to register to vote — many were forced out of their county making them ineligible to cast ballots in 1966. At the same time, whites who had long ago moved out of the area were encouraged to return to vote. And long deceased white voters were somehow able to rise from the grave and cast "Tombstone votes." White voting officials engaged in tricks and schemes to suppress the number of African Americans casting ballots, and in some cases there was evidence of outright fraud, ballot stuffing, and false counts. Movement poll-watchers were intimidated, harassed, and prevented from doing their jobs, and in Greene, Sumter, and Marengo counties even the federal election observers were blocked from observing the vote and vote-count.
While 1966 turnout among registered Black voters was strong, turnout by white voters determined to maintain their white-supremacist "southern way of life" was at record-setting highs. In the May 3rd Democratic primary and the May 31st run-off, only five Blacks in the entire state won nomination to public office (three in Macon, one each in Greene and Sumter counties). Independent Black Panther parties were only established and recognized in four counties — Lowndes, Wilcox, Greene, and Dallas). None of their candidates won in the general election.
In the end, Freedom Movement activists and African American voters were bitterly disappointed. Out of several hundred state and local races, only the five Blacks running as Democrats were elected to public office, the first in more than five decades.
Yet in the following years, the number of African Americans elected to public office in Black-majority counties rose swiftly. In most cases they ran as Democrats. The Black Panther parties merged into the Democratic Party which evolved into a predominantly Black party. For their part, white voters rapidly shifted their allegiance to the Republican Party. So much so, that 68% of whites in 2014 favored the Republican Party while just 11% of Blacks did. That same year, 80% of Blacks and just 20% of whites backed Democrats. And after the presidential election of 2016, racial polarization among Alabama voters intensified.
In white-majority counties where a significant number of Blacks were registered and politically organized, they were sometimes able to influence election outcomes in favor of whites who might at least listen to and take into account the concerns and needs of the Black community. But African American candidates winning office in white-majority counties and districts were rare indeed and many white candidates were able to win office by making explicitly racist appeals to white voters.
These Photo Album pages contain images related to the 1966 Alabama Elections.
Before I'll Be a Slave...
Voting Rights Act Becomes Law
The Election in Lowndes County
The Election in Dallas County (Selma)
The Election in Macon County (Tuskegee)
General 1966 Justice Department Ignores Vote Law (re reluctance to enforce Voting Rights Act), Jerry DeMuth, SNCC. May 23, 1966 1966 Electoral Politics and the Movement Eric Mann, Liberation. June 1966. Freedom Organizations 1965 What Would it Profit a Man to Have the Vote and Not be Able to Control it? Courtland Cox. Late 1965 or early 1966. 1966 We Intend to Take Over Lowndes County, Stokely Carmichael. The Movement, Feb & March 1966. 1966 How the Black Panther Party Was Organized, speech by John Hulett, May 1966. 1966 Integration is completely irrelevant to us, Stokely Carmichael. The Movement, June 1966. 1966 Lowndes County Election Fraud ~ November 1966, Gwen Patton. Liberator. [PDF] 1967 Lowndes County Freedom Organization, Jack Minnis. SCEF. [PDF]
Bruce Hartford Interview: Hale County Election Gwen Patton Interview: Lowndes County, Alabama: 1965-1966