Lowndes County is a county of the U.S. state of Alabama. It is named in honor of William Lowndes, a member of the United States Congress from South Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 11,299. Its county seat is Hayneville.
Civil Rights Era
The county was referred to as "Bloody Lowndes," the rusty buckle of Alabama's Black Belt. In 1965, a full century after the American Civil War, things had not changed much: 86 white families owned 90 percent of the land in the county and controlled the government. Black residents worked mostly in low-level rural jobs. Not one black resident was registered to vote, as the state legislature had passed a disfranchising constitution at the turn of the century.
The success of the Selma to Montgomery marches and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, encouraged civil rights leaders to believe they could fight racism even in Bloody Lowndes. "The Lowndes County Freedom Organization" was founded in the county as a new, independent political party designed to help blacks stand up to intimidation and murder.
Organized by the young civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lowndes residents launched an intensive effort to register blacks to vote in County.
SNCC's plan was simple: to get enough black people to vote so blacks might control the local government and redirect services to black residents, 80 percent of whom lived below the poverty line. Carmichael and others organized registration drives, demonstrations, and political education classes in support of the black residents. Passage by Congress of the federal 1965 Voting Rights Act meant that voting rights would be overseen and enforced by the federal government.
In 1966, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization entered several local residents as candidates for county offices. It adopted the emblem of the black panther in contrast to the white rooster of the white-dominated Alabama Democratic Party. Whites in Lowndes County reacted strongly to the LCFO. In retaliation for civil rights work, white landowners evicted many black sharecroppers, leaving them both homeless and unemployed.
The SNCC and Lowndes County leaders worked to help these families stay together and remain in the county. They bought tents, cots, heaters, food, and water and helped several families build a temporary "tent city". Despite harassment, including shots regularly fired into the encampment, residents persevered for nearly two years as organizers helped them find new jobs and look for permanent housing. Whites refused to serve known LCFO members in stores and restaurants. Several small riots broke out over the issue. The LCFO pushed forward and continued to organize and register voters.
The black candidates were defeated then, but others have since been elected. While their initial attempt was unsuccessful, the LCFO continued to fight. Their goal of democratic, community control of politics spread into the wider civil rights movement.
The first black sheriff in the county was John Hullett, elected in 1970.