Lowndes County Freedom Organization

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Lowndes County Freedom Organization

In the early spring of 1965, in Lowndes County, Alabama, the black activist Stokely Carmichael (19411998) and other members of the civil rights organization called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) created the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). Lowndes County, a rural farming area just south of Montgomery, at that time had a population of fifteen thousand, of which over 70 percent were black. However, white supremacy was the cornerstone of law and society, historically enforced by violence and open intimidation. The black population was poor and politically voiceless. As a result of the violent intimidation, none of the blacks in the county was registered to vote in elections, thus maintaining the white dominance.

SNCC had devoted considerable energy to registering blacks to vote in the Deep South from 1961 to 1965. In 1964, SNCC created the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to represent black voters in the Democratic Party. However, the MFDP failed to gain acceptance at the 1964 Democratic National Convention held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In reaction to the racism dominant in the Alabama Democratic Party, Carmichael decided the time was right to counter the political domination and create an independent black political party. He believed the drive for racial integration was just another form of white supremacy. Carmichael argued that blacks should speak for themselves, using their own words and ideas, and gain independence in their own communities.

An unusual Alabama state law provided that any group of citizens who nominated candidates for county offices and won at least 20 percent of the vote could be formally recognized as a county political party. Carmichael and SNCC began organizing in several counties, including the mostly black Lowndes County. On May 3, 1965, five new county freedom organizations met to nominate candidates for the offices of sheriff and tax assessor, and for school boards.

The LCFO adopted the image of a black panther, in contrast to the Alabama Democratic Party's white rooster symbol. The panther symbolized power, dignity, and determination. The determination was soon evident: at a May 8 local election, nine hundred of almost two thousand registered black voters in Lowndes County voted, despite risking their personal safety. In recognition of the risk involved, the LCFO's saying at the time was "Vote the panther, then go home." The LCFO was successful in electing some black officials.

The LCFO was a landmark organization not only for transforming the goals of civil rights advocates from integration to liberation, but also for introducing the black panther image, which was later adopted by the militant Black Panther organization in Oakland, California. The LCFO represented the growing differences within the civil rights movement over desired goals and how to achieve them. The peaceful civil-disobedience tactics of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were increasingly challenged by the more confrontational strategies of SNCC. The SCLC urged blacks in Lowndes County to remain in the Democratic Party and fight for change within the organization. Instead, independent black political activity developed.

See also Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; Carmichael, Stokely; King, Martin Luther, Jr.; Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)


Carmichael, Stokely. "Power and Racism: What We Want." Black Scholar 27 (1997): 5257. (Reprint of 1966 essay).

Carmichael, Stokely, and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. New York: Random House, 1967.

Cone, James H. Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 19681998. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1999.

Hall, Raymond L. Black Separatism in the United States. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1978.

Stanton, Mary. From Selma to Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998.

richard c. hanes (1996)