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2. Election day in Demopolis. The dream evaporated. When I was in grade school, I got into one of those playground fistfights that boys that age fall heir to. In this one, two white children were pelting the devil out of a Negro classmate. I jumped into the scuffle to help ‘my outnumbered friend and, later, my teacher scolded me and said, “We believe Negroes are equal, but we don’t fight for them.” After the May 3 Democratic primary election in Alabama, I think I can say that the racial policies of the federal government are guided by the same mentality. When it comes to practicing constitutional equality, the administration apparently prefers racial peace to justice, and it is the Negroes of towns like Demopolis who pay the price. Last summer, with other students working under local direction, I did voter registration work in Demopolis, a town of 7,000 where the Negroes are in the majority. At first, we had the job of lining up hundreds of Negroes each voter registration day so that they might attempt, and invariably fail, a literacy test which whites were exempted from in practice. Finally, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed, and the federal registrars came to Demopolis. Negroes in Marengo County felt a hopefulness about democracy a feeling dead in them since the federal troops of Reconstruction were withdrawn from the area in 1879. Late last summer, we were full of good faith, thinking that the government really intended to deliver the people from political slavery. I felt this as I returned to Austin and to school. On May 3rd, with students associated with me in the Demopolis Project, I returned to Demopolis ready to get out the vote. There was a sign of hope: 73% of the Negroes in the county were registered to vote. against 114.3% of the 1960 white population. With luck, I knew, we might be able to make significant gains. The city of Demopolis, which said it had spent $12,000 the year before on policing the civil rights movement, had indicated to us that it would lift its policy of harassment, which had resulted last summer in the jailing of 18 of us. To make that stay in Demopolis Jail less comfortable, the deputy had turned on the heating system for the cells silenced the concert of freedom songs which followed with a dose of tear gas. A second concert led the jailer to turn off the heat, switch on the fans and retire to enjoy the Dick Reavis, who is 20, is the son of a West Texas newspaperman and is a student at the University of Texas in Austin. He is leader of a small, independent civil rights group called The Demopolis Project, which seeks to aid the Negroes of Marengo County, Alabama, whose seat is Demopolis. 10 The Texas Observer silence. It was an interesting Fourth of July, but now we had promises that May 3 would be a day of “racial peace.” We found that many of the Negro people were unaware that Tuesday was the day long promised them as the day of deliverance. Some of the older Negroes, fearful and nervous about their handicap of illiteracy, were timid about taking the step into the polling booth, and many of those who did explained, “Well, it’s for the children.” One man was happy to vote. He told me, “It says in the book of Revelations that what comes first must come last.” Others went proudly. I watched a man who does yard work for whites as one of his white employers picked him up for work that Tuesday morning. He crawled into the front seat, which, he said later, was the first time he had done that, and I heard him tell the white man, “You’re taking me to vote first.” There was hope in the people as they crowded the church for pre-election mass meetings and sang: Oh, Wallace, you never can jail us all, Oh, Wallace, segregation’s bound to fall. The Rev. Samuel Wells, Dr. Martin Luther King’s representative in the area, conducted some of these meetings, but as he, and we, knew, the people who don’t register are those who don’t go to church or attend mass meetings, either. As we got ready for the election day work, ‘Wells told the group, “You’ve got to be Moses and lead your brothers out of Egypt on May the 3rd. Go down, go down, like Moses.” And thus the project workers who had never tasted fundamentalism saw how religion and freedom are intertwined in the hopes of the people. But, despite hope, election day brought an assortment of disasters. Friday of the week before, Wells himself was arrested, and the Negroes’ symbol of leadership was in jail as they went to the polls, released later election day. When they got to the polls, they were greeted by grinning white deputies whom they knew well. The Negroes ‘had drawn up a list of 45 Negro volunteers for pollwatching, and two were accepted by the white leaders of Marengo County. One of those found that as he watched the elections, someone had poured sugar into the gasoline tank of his automobile. It was the white officials who decided who was to help the illiterate Negroes cast their vote in the booths, and the effects of this “aid” are not hard to calculate. In one heavily Negro precinct, the names of two Negro-backed candidates were missing from the voting machines, and the machines in precincts dominated by Negroes were subject to curious breakdowns. In addition, white candidates from other towns who, under Alabama’s unique election laws were supposed to be home that day, were circulating among the voting lines at white boxes in Demopolis. But we had expected all this. We had expected the federal government to act as fully as it was allowed to under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Negroes in Marengo County -sought 18 federal election judges, and got six. Two of them stuck together at one precinct after one was threatened by a deputy. We went to the federal officials with the allegations I have made here, and those allegations were met with skepticism. If an investigation has been carried out, it was done without our knowledge, and with no request for further information for us. Faced with complaints on election day, the federal officials took notes to check out later. THE FINAL disappointment has been the view of the popular media of what happened in Alabama : the notion that Negroes somehow made significant gains in this balloting which elected, among others, Mrs. George Wallace. Came the chorusing of liberal editorialists praising the whites of Alabama for conducting an election in a civil fashion. The New York Times editorial began, “The fact of overwhelming importance about Alabama’s primary was its peacefulness.” Well, nobody got clubbed. But the real reason that the election was peaceful is that the white community knew that it wasn’t threatened, even by the handful of federal pollwatchers. The Times editorial said Wallace “cannot stop social change in Alabama any more than he has been able to prevent school desegregation,” ‘but the schools of the Black Belt still are segregated, and partly because the federal government accepted the “freedom-of-choice” plan which allows the parents to decide which school their children will attend. Those Negroes I know who have freely chosen this avenue of opportunity have promptly lost their jobs. I know a man who prided himself on the fact that he hadn’t missed a day of work in 18 years, but his job was gone when he tried this, and he lost the next job, too. I believe that the white media prefer to ignore the facts and the pain of discrimination. When quiet election’s, rather than fair elections, become the issue, it is easy for the readers to suppose that segregation is whipped. Forty years ago, people thought that Alabama Negroes had been saved by Booker T. Washington and his Tuskegee Institute. Now, apparently, we are to believe that this month’s primary did the job. Despite presidential showmanship, the sameness of the Negroes’ existence has told them that the system is invincible, and that when they attempt to change their environment, they do so with the hope, but not the expectation, of succeeding. There was the same kind of racial peace during slavery, and from the end of reconstruction until the movement began 10 years ago. A Negro in Demopolis will tell you what “racial peace” means: a piece of house, a piece of car and, now, a piece of political power. Dick Reavis