b: 1914 | d: 2008Contributor: T. Gee/L.Parkin
Aaron Sellers, the father of Civil Rights in Bullock County, was only 40 when he summoned the courage and tenacity he needed to make a difference in his life and others in 1954. Dr. Charles G. Gomillion, a Tuskegee Institute Professor, called Sellers out of the plowing fields to aide the African American citizens of Bullock and the State of Alabama in the voting rights struggle. Sellers organized the Bullock County NAACP at Oak Grove No 1 Baptist church in Midway and served as its first president.
On January 18, 1954, Sellers lead his first organized attempt to register African Americans to vote at the Bullock County Courthouse. Sellers made 6 attempts to register and each time was prohibited. His story is documented in Robert A. Caro’s book, The Years of Lyndon Johnson Master of the Senate.
In December, 1958 Sellers testified before the Federal Civil Rights Commission hearing held in Montgomery, Alabama where he was asked, “Mr. Sellers, you going to continue to attempt to vote?” Sellers replied, “Yes, I’m determined to register.” President Lyndon Johnson had Sellers secretly brought to Washington to have input on the Civil Rights Act that was signed into law in 1964. Aaron Sellers registered to vote in 1965.
Below is an excerpt from a transcript of a program of Mr. Caro speaking on his conversation when he finally got to meet Aaron Sellers, most of the people involved earlier had passed on and only a few were left living for him to find to interview when he was writing his book. The following excerpt from him at a speaking engagement in 2003 at Harvard University in the John F. Kennedy School of Government for the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press and Politics for Public Policy.
"...So what I was doing was simply going through the list of witnesses at these hearings and trying to locate them and talk to them, those that were still alive. Of course it was already forty years since they had testified and a lot of them weren’t alive. And it was after I started talking to them that I began to understand the depth of the problem and the nobility of what Lyndon Johnson had done. I began to understand aspects I had never really gotten.
I remember talking to a black man named Aaron Sellers who during the 1950s had registered black votes, in Bullock County, Alabama. It was a one-sided conversation. Mr. Sellers by this time was completely deaf, so he couldn’t hear my questions. Luckily his daughter, Gladys Sellers, was visiting from Washington Heights in Manhattan. So I would ask her the question and she would tell Aaron, her father, the question, and he would talk to me. And when I asked why he had been able to get people registered and then they wouldn’t vote, he said, “well, the white people in town kept a list of the names of who was trying to vote, and they kept the list in their pockets for ready reference."
So I said, what would they use the list for? and I started to get a real education. I can’t tell you about it all tonight. I’ll tell you just about crop loans. People who were on that list couldn’t get crop loans, and if you were a poor farmer in the South, you needed in the spring, a loan from a bank to buy your seeds and fertilizer to plant your crops. In Bullock County it was cotton and peanuts. Without that loan you couldn’t plant a crop for the next year, you wouldn’t have a harvest to sell, you wouldn’t have any income coming in. You would have to pack up your wife and children in many cases, get into your rundown car and drive off, often with no place to go.
If you wanted to vote in the South, that was something that was facing you..."
Jerry Bonnet in Indianapolis collect old news photographs and he came onto a photograph of Aaron Sellers testifying on his voter registration fight in Montgomery, Alabama in 1958 and share this with me. The back of the photograph has a Dec 9, 1958 date stamp and a "TIMES Dec 10, 1958" stamp on it. Part of a news paper clipping is glued to the back - but the name of the newspaper is not identified. Possibly it was published in the New York Times - or used with the Time Magazine article published on Monday, December 22, 1958.
Family Reunion, Philidelphia 2007