Kevin M. Kruse @KevinMKruse Historian. Author/editor of White Flight; The New Suburban History; Spaces of the Modern City; Fog of War; One Nation Under God; Fault Lines. Nov. 02, 2018 3 min read

This is an excellent point, and one worth dwelling on a bit.

We often talk about the civil rights movement as being a lifetime ago, but we have to remember it was within the lifetimes of people who are still with us today.

Some are famous, like Georgia's Congressman John Lewis, a former SNCC activist. But of course, many more are not.

Well known or not, they all took part in an important piece of American history that is, for them, also a personal memory.

They know, as @fivefifths noted, the price that their generation paid to secure the right to vote, and how precious -- and precarious -- that right is now.

Mississippi and Alabama loom large in our public memory of the civil rights movement, but Georgia had more than its fair share of white supremacist repression and violence.

My first book was about segregationists in Atlanta, but they weren't remotely the worst of the bunch.

During the 1950s, Terrell County in southwest Georgia emerged as one of the most notorious segregationist strongholds throughout the South.

Black Georgians called it "Terrible Terrell," or "T.T." for "Tombstone Territory."

Despite Terrell's reputation for violence -- or perhaps because of it -- SNCC activists decided to focus attention on registering African Americans to vote there in 1962.

Whites reacted predictably, doing whatever they could to intimidate those seeking to register to vote.

As always, the threats of violence from ordinary segregationists went hand-in-hand with the more official campaigns of repression and harassment from the local police.

Here's a story from April 1962, for instance, taking note of traffic tickets and death threats.

In July 1962, Sheriff Zeke T. Mathews appeared at a voter registration meeting at a local church.

While his deputies took down license plates outside, he went into the church, smoking a cigarette the whole time, in a clear attempt to intimidate the activists there.

Nevertheless, SNCC kept at it.

A few months later, several black churches were burned to the ground by arsonists -- including the very church that Sheriff Mathews had visited.

Despite all this intimidation, SNCC activists kept at it.

Charles Sherrod, featured in the stories above, led the way. You can read more about him and his work here. 

And yes, if that last name sounds familiar to you, it's because you might have heard of his wife -- Shirley Sherrod -- a few years back. 

It took national attention and federal intervention to secure voting rights for African Americans in Terrell County, first through a specific lawsuit and then with the larger protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But local black activists led the way and paid the price.

And today, those black activists are still there.

Charles and Shirley Sherrod live in Albany in the southwestern part of the state, having refused to be run out by white supremacists.

And their SNCC colleague John Lewis represents Atlanta in Congress.

But the same forces that worked against them are still there too.

What @BrianKempGA is doing to limit the black vote clearly echoes the earlier resistance. And now it seems local police might be using the same old tricks too: 

As @AriBerman and @ProfCAnderson and others have noted in their tireless work on this topic, the hard-fought security of voting rights in this country -- but especially in the South -- is in real danger. 

Don't treat the civil rights struggle like it's in the distant past, like it's an accomplishment that can't be undone.

Because it can be undone. It *is* being undone. Right now.

You can follow @KevinMKruse.


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