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From Pre-Civil War to Post-Civil Rights: The Political Lives of African-Americans




Burnes, Valerie

Type of Degree





African Americans have played a major role in the history of Perry County almost since the first white settlers arrived in the area with their black enslaved laborers. In a county known for its pre-Civil War cotton wealth, enslaved blacks plowed the fields and built the houses that made all of that wealth possible. In 1865, they were freed when Union soldiers moved through the county on their way to the Confederate arsenal in Selma. The freed men and women worked to establish their identity in a white governing society that wanted interaction on their own terms. Through the establishment of their own churches, schools, and businesses, blacks maneuvered within a segregated society that allowed them to learn at the Lincoln School but offered them no employment opportunities to use their education other than menial labor. Exactly 100 years after gaining their freedom, the African-American community in Perry County, in conjunction with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, marched on the county courthouse and lined up at the voter registration office to demand change. Through the work of the U.S. Department of Justice and the local black community, the Civil Rights Movement in Perry County helped define and pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This work documents the lives of African-Americans in Perry County from slavery through segregation and then discusses the Civil Rights Movement in the county and its impact on the lives of blacks and whites in the county into the twenty-first century.