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Eyes on the Prize
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Southern Cities' Responses to Protests

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Dallas County, Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark points a billy club and electric prod as he tells voting demonstrators to move from the front of the Dallas Courthouse, January 19, 1965.

Official responses to civil rights protests varied from place to place and within city governments. The police chief of Albany, Georgia, Laurie Pritchett, researched the nonviolent method and responded with nonviolence. By avoiding brutality, coordinating with neighboring communities for jail space and even paying Martin Luther King, Jr.'s fine and releasing him from jail so he could not become a symbol for the cause, the officials there effectively rebuffed the movement.

In contrast, the Alabama towns of Birmingham and Selma brought out trained attack dogs, high pressure water hoses, and billy clubs to subdue activists -- and with their violent response, brought national attention to their flawed communities. The brutality of men like Dallas County, Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark drove some whites to disassociate themselves from the sheriff, but King rebuked them: "If Negroes could vote, there would be no Jim Clarks."

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Eyes on the Prize Blackside American Experience