In a place with a nickname like “Bloody Lowndes,” Black people knew how to protect themselves, their homes, and their families. Guns sat across mantles and in the corners of most every Black home in the county. But Black families also protected themselves by being self-sufficient and maintaining their economic independence. SNCC organizers relied on these independent Black landowners who were willing to step out and offer protection to the young Movement workers. Ethel Williams’ parents—Mathew and Emma Jackson—took on great risk by providing SNCC workers a place to live.
SNCC worker Wendell Paris recalled the protection that the Jackson family and other White Hall residents gave them. When driving down the road to White Hall, it was best to blink your lights and blow your horn.
This push for independence and self-sufficiency also infused the work of the Movement. In the fall of 1965 SNCC introduced the idea of creating an independent political party in Lowndes County. Voter registration had increased since the Voting Rights Act had gone into effect, and local Black residents and SNCC organizers began looking for ways to gain political power. After a large political education campaign, they formed the Lowndes County Freedom Organization in April 1966. Its emblem was a black panther. LCCMHR secretary Lillian McGill called them “our cats.”
We’re not here to cause trouble. We’re not here to necessarily cause disruption but if you keep pushing us into a corner, we’re going to come out fighting. -Regina Moorer
As local people and SNCC organizers crossed the dusty roads of the county talking to people about the Lowndes County Freedom Organization and political power, they were protected by guns. SNCC organizer Wendell Paris remembered the time that he found himself waiting at an older lady’s house in Fort Deposit on election night. There were rumors of violence and the organizers needed a meeting location. “If they shoot at us, they might miss the powder, but they’re going to get the lead right back,” the lady told him.
Lillian McGill knew that sentiment well. Her son was one of the first Black children to integrate the all-white Hayneville High School. She put him on the school bus that first morning, got her gun, and headed toward the school. “I’m not going to be the instigator, but I’ll sure protect myself,” she explained.