The memo features detailed notes for a meeting that was to occur between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The document was dated just three days before the first march in Selma, Alabama. Clearly from the notes, voting rights was the focus of the meeting. The Civil Rights Act had been passed the previous year, which outlawed discrimination in voting based on race. However, only two percent of eligible African-American voters (300 out of 15,000) were registered to vote. Although King raised awareness of the struggle in Selma, local members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had been trying for months to register African-American voters in the area. In addition, part of what raised the profile for the region was the shooting death of Jimmie Lee Johnson, a 26-year-old African-American male demonstrator. The publicity that was afforded the movement was, in part, because of the brutal nature of the tactics used by the Alabama State Patrol. Because of actions taken like the ones of the protestors in Selma, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law on August 6, 1965.
Transcript of Lee White's Memo to President Lyndon B. Johnson
- Using evidence from the memo, how did President Johnson's administration view the protests? Use evidence from the source. Consider the statement in point 2 regarding a plea for restraint related to the protests. Why did the Johnson administration want to minimize protests if goals were not being met? What actions was the government willing to take to support access to voting rights, according to the memo?
- Did this memo show the need for continued protests? Support your answer using evidence from the source.
- Listen to the Stories from Selma, which were recorded 50 years after the march, and compare it to this document. How did the meeting notes compare to what actually happened in Selma?
White, Lee, "Memo from Lee White to President Johnson," 4 March 1965. Courtesy of National Archives