Registering to Vote
In 1959, John Estes, a civil rights activist and the attorney who represented the accused Burton Dodson, encouraged John McFerren et. al to start a voter registration campaign. McFerren and Jameson initiated a word-of-mouth campaign to appeal to African Americans to register to vote. As word of mouth grew, members of the African American community lined up, standing for hours, to register to vote at the Fayette County courthouse.
Going in to register to vote.
Source: Sepia Magazine, Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries.
In trying to register to vote Blacks were immediately met by obstacles and delaying tactics. Then, in trying to register, Black citizens were immediately met by obstacles and delaying tactics forged by the prominent white community at the County Clerk's office and even at the polling precincts. Whites feared the potential upheaval in politics and government if a significant number of Blacks voted; at that time Blacks comprised a majority of the population.
Blacks stood in line in the "dead heat" of summer heat for hours to register. While
waiting in line, they were harassed at times by whites who spit or threw hot coffee
or peppers on them. Even when they were successful in registering, registered Blacks
were blacklisted by whites which prevented them from buying essential goods and were
denied medical services, fired from their jobs, and evicted from their homes.
Local and national media report on the Fayette County Movement
Source: Muhammad Speaks, Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries.
Later, because of illiteracy, volunteers created copies of the ballots for upcoming elections to help the new voters better cast their votes, but when the ballot order was changed without any announcement beforehand, the first–time voters were unable to effectively vote for their chosen candidate. Despite having finally won the right to cast a ballot, accusations of corruption and intimidation regarding the ballot box demonstrated that the roots of racism and segregation would not be so easily removed from Fayette County.
Black Fayette County residents register to vote
Whites swiftly and harshly retaliated against African Americans who registered to vote in the early 1960's.
Photo Source: Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries
Allen Yancey Discusses Registration
2002 documentary project on Fayette County, TN: Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries
Viola McFerren Discusses the Problems Registering in Fayette County
2002 documentary project on Fayette County, TN: Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries.
The white community responded quickly and powerfully.