The Second Reconstruction in Local Politics: Alabama Grassroots Activists Fulfilling the Promise of the Voting Rights Act, 1960-1990
Type of Degreedissertation
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In arguing that historians expand the timeline for what is considered the modern civil rights movement, this dissertation examines how grassroots Alabama activists affiliated with the Alabama Democratic Conference carried the struggle for political equality forward on the local level after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. This dissertation also argues that Alabama voting rights activists understood that change begins at the local level, and employed the Voting Rights Act in dismantling a variety of racially discriminatory laws and customs that governed political and electoral practices in their state. Many narratives of civil rights struggles have focused on national figures and institutions, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, President Johnson, the Congress, and the U.S. Supreme Court. This dissertation focuses, instead, on the local citizen-activists in Alabama who won hard-fought victories in voting rights by collaborating and utilizing connections with powerful leaders and institutions. Between 1960 and 1990, Alabama Democratic Conference activists succeeded in enfranchising most black citizens of Alabama. In the process, these political activists transformed Alabama’s politics and the state electorate. This dissertation is the first narrative history of Alabama Democratic Conference activists’ work to promote voting rights. The study of voting rights activism in Alabama between 1960 and 1990 demonstrates that the Second Reconstruction has achieved more successes than the First Reconstruction in sustaining voting rights for black Americans, while offering a context for understating how far yet the struggle for political equality in the South has to go.