How One Alabama Sherriff Worked Openly to Oppress People of Color

AP Photo/Horace Cort

In Wilcox County, Alabama, in one of the country’s poorest counties, a supposedly unarmed sheriff dispensed justice for thirty years using his psychological skills and magnetic personality. His complimentary biography was composed by his granddaughter, from white sources. Wilcox County is, and was, predominantly black. Naturally, people of color remember Lummie differently.

For Topic, Alexandra Marvar looks beyond the Sheriff’s inaccurate legend and gets to the facts: Lummie was one more racist in an era ruled by racists, and he used violence, power, and intimidation to keep black residents from exercising their right to vote and from participating in the Civil Rights movement.

I ask him if it’s true that Lummie didn’t carry a gun. “Didn’t carry a gun?” Gragg sounds amused. “He carried a gun and a nightstick.”

“He had his snitches,” Gragg continues, “and they would tell him what he want to know.” As I continued to ask around the area, people told me about how Lummie would ride through and break up folks’ whiskey stills when Wilcox was a dry county. Or how, if he was in a mood and caught you on the wrong side of the river after Camden’s eight o’clock curfew, he’d make you swim home, even in the winter.

They remember in 1962, as the push for black voter registration began 40 miles away in Selma, how the county shut down the Gee’s Bend ferry, turning what had been a short passage across the Alabama River into an all-but-unmanageable journey. “We didn’t close the ferry because they were black,” Lummie supposedly said. “We closed it because they forgot they were black.”

Gee’s Bend residents also remember Dr. King’s visits in 1965, the rallies in Camden, and the march on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. They remember marching to Camden as children and teenagers, being blockaded by Lummie and Mayor F. R. Albritton at the town’s edge, being pummeled with tear gas and smoke bombs, getting arrested, reaching the courthouse, kneeling in the street, and refusing to leave. They remember the songs they sang. Some remember what happened to David Colston, what happened to Della McDuffie. Some would rather not remember that time at all.

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