Lowndes County Freedom Organization (aka Lowndes County Freedom Party)
1965 – 1970
Notable: Political Party
Location: Alabama, United States of America
Lowndes County had a history of Black voter suppression that extended beyond the bounds of legislation. Some Black sharecroppers found themselves jobless and homeless as retaliation for attempting to register to vote. Other residents were unfairly targeted by the police and experienced violence at the hands of White residents. All while the majority of the Black population lived below the poverty line.
At the time the South was still dominated by the Democratic Party which had not yet experienced its mass exodus of White Southerners and was still working to uphold White supremacy. Meanwhile, the Republican Party was a non-factor and ineffective with regards to representing the needs of Black citizens in the South. The Alabama Democratic Party utilized slogans and symbols which blatantly represented White supremacy and was headed by Governor George Wallace who was a devoted segregationist.
During the Selma-to-Montgomery March, Stokely Carmichael and other members of SNCC stopped to speak with residents of Lowndes County. While in town, they began registering voters which led to local police officers unsuccessfully attempting to arrest Carmichael. Seeing a need and opportunity, SNCC members joined forces with local resident John Hulett and founded the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). Despite Black citizens accounting for 70-80% of the local population, Hulett was the only Black resident who was registered to vote.
A similar voter suppression situation in Mississippi had led SNCC and local activists to create the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) with the intent of challenging the racist practices of the Mississippi Democratic Party. Initially, the goal of SNCC and the LCFO was simply to get Black voters registered. But goals changed with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 1956, the NAACP had been banned from participating in several of its core activities in Alabama. As an alternative, Hulett became a co-founder of the Lowndes County Christian Movement for Human Rights. The organization reached out to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) for help but did not receive meaningful assistance.
The SCLC supported the residents of Lowndes County remaining with the Democratic Party but protesting its racist practices. But following the example of the MFDP, it was decided that establishing an independent party in Alabama might be more effective than trying to change the Democratic Party from within. This shift in strategy represented a dramatic change in ideology.
The SCLC thought it was most important to integrate the Alabama Democratic Party. Conversely, SNCC was willing to remain independent of the establishment and use more confrontational methods of protest. Just being able to vote was not sufficient and joining a party that would be hostile towards Black citizens was deemed useless.
It was incredibly important that Black residents of Lowndes County have the opportunity to not just elect but also select candidates of their choice to represent their interests. SNCC and the LCFO ramped up their efforts to educate and register eligible would-be Black voters. They held political workshops as well as informal info sessions and roundtables where they spoke with residents about voting and other issues. By the following spring, enough voters had been successfully registered to make Black citizens the voting majority in Lowndes County.
The candidates who were put forth by the LCFO did not win in the first election due in part to voter intimidation. But the LCFO secured the required number of votes to be recognized as a legitimate political party and became the Lowndes County Freedom Party (LCFP). In keeping with state political party laws, the LCFP had to choose a party symbol and selected a Black Panther.
Within just five years, the LCFP would have its candidates elected as sheriff, county commissioner, and mayor of a small city in the county. The LCFP would eventually merge with the Alabama Democratic Party but its Black Panther symbol and ideology of Black self-determination or “Black Power” would influence other political organizations such as the Oakland-based Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.
- Anderson, Erica. 2007. “Lowndes County Freedom Organization (1965- ).” Blackpast.org. March 29, 2007. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/lowndes-county-freedom-organization/.
- “Lowndes County Freedom Organization Founded.” 2020. SNCC Digital Gateway. July 14, 2020. https://snccdigital.org/events/lowndes-county-freedom-organization-founded/.
- “Lowndes County Freedom Organization.” 2020. Encyclopedia.com. Encyclopedia.com. November 8, 2020. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lowndes-county-freedom-organization.
- “Lowndes County Freedom Party (LCFP).” 2018. SNCC Digital Gateway. May 1, 2018. https://snccdigital.org/inside-sncc/alliances-relationships/lcfp/.
- Woodham, Rebecca. 2020. “Lowndes County Freedom Organization.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. August 12, 2020. http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1781.
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