Why It Matters: Black Alabamians and the Vote

A podcast series exploring Black Alabamians’ fight for full participation in the electoral process, including the right to vote. We’ll examine what that right secured...and what it didn’t. We’ll also look at where the electoral process is headed in Alabama — and how the humanities can play a vital role in its future.

Why It Matters podcast

What forces did Black Alabamians have to overcome to secure the vote? Exactly how much “good freedom” has the vote brought to Black residents statewide? And what echoes of the voting rights struggle can we hear in today’s modern voter suppression tactics?

Host Tonya Scott-Williams explores these questions, and many more, in conversations with leading Humanities scholars and historians. Each episode also features original poetry and readings from poet Ashley M. Jones.

Black Alabamians and the Vote is a six-episode podcast series, presented by Alabama Humanities Alliance. The series is part of a national initiative exploring civic participation as it relates to electoral engagement in a multivocal democracy. Funding was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for “Why It Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation,” administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils.


Thank you to the individuals and organizations
who made this series possible:

Funding: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Administration: Federation of State Humanities Councils

Podcast host: Tonya Scott-Williams

Project poet: Ashley M. Jones

Audio engineer: Matthew Hancock

A conversation with Tara White, PhD, history instructor at Wallace State Community College Selma, about the role of women’s clubs in the women’s suffrage movement. We also explore the life of the Black suffragist, Adella Hunt Logan. Logan was born into a slaveholding family that included Black, white, and Cherokee ancestry. As she grew older, she used her heritage to her advantage. While Logan became a teacher at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), she also passed for white to join the segregated women’s suffrage movement.

Episode 1 poems by Ashley M. Jones:

"I Cannot Talk About the South Without Talking About Black Women"

"Election Year 2016: The Motto"

Read the book that inspired this conversation:

Princess of the Hither Isles: A Black Suffragist’s Story from the Jim Crow South

By Adele Logan Alexander

(Yale University Press, 2019)

A conversation with Bryan K. Fair, JD, professor at The University of Alabama School of Law, on the life and legacy of W.C. Patton. Patton’s guiding philosophy: He could only ask more of his government if he participated in democracy to the fullest extent himself. That vision led him to hold voter registration drives in rural Alabama in the 1930s and 1940s, before becoming state president of the NAACP and, later, its national director of voter education. 

Episode 2 poems by Ashley M. Jones:

"Rammer Jammer"

"Addie, Carol, Cynthia, Denise"

"Birmingham Fire and Rescue Haiku, 1963"

"Viewing a KKK Uniform at the Civil Rights Institute"

Watch the documentary that inspired this conversation:

I Shall Not be Moved: The Legacy of W.C. Patton

Produced by The University of Alabama Center for Public Television (1995)

A conversation with Scotty Kirkland, coordinator of exhibits, publications and programs at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. During the Civil Rights Movement, Black voting rights activists developed legal strategies to challenge Jim Crow in court. But white supremacists had their own countertactics. The Boswell Amendment to the Alabama Constitution was one of the most infamous – a nebulous “education requirement” approved by Alabama voters in 1946 to sidestep U.S. law and disenfranchise Black citizens.

Episode 3 poems by Ashley M. Jones:

"There is a Bell at Morehouse College"


Read the article that inspired this conversation:

“Freedom on Trial: NAACP v. Alabama,” Alabama Heritage Magazine (Issue 121, Summer 2016)

By Scotty Kirkland

A conversation with Hasan Kwame Jeffries, PhD, history professor, author, and host of the Teaching Hard History podcast, about the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. As 1965 began, not a single soul among the 5,000 African Americans in Lowndes County were registered to vote. By the end of 1966, the Lowndes County voter rolls included nearly 3,000 African Americans. Learn how the Lowndes County Freedom Organization cracked Jim Crow.

Episode 4 poems by Ashley M. Jones:

"Poem for Revolution for Malcolm, Martin and All the Rest"

"All Y'all Really from Alabama?"

"Poem in Which I am Too Political to Read at Your School"

Read the book that inspired this conversation:

Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt

By Hasan Kwame Jeffries

(NYU Press, 2009)

A conversation with Karlyn Forner, PhD, author and former project manager of the SNCC Digital Gateway at Duke University Libraries. In the 1960s, the right to vote earned the Black citizens of Selma political empowerment. What it did not deliver was economic clout in equal measure. Today, the fight continues to earn what longtime Selma movement veteran Joanne Bland calls the “good freedom” of jobs, living wages, quality education, sturdy housing, and more.

Episode 5 poem by Ashley M. Jones:

"Who Will Survive in America? Or, 2017: A Horror Film"

Read the book that inspired this conversation:

Why the Vote Wasn’t Enough for Selma

By Karlyn Forner

(Duke University Press, 2017)

A conversation with Arnee Odoms, Alabama coordinator of Black Voters Matter, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering rural, small, and predominantly Black communities – not just on Election Day, but to engage in broader civic participation. Founders LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright both spent their formative years in Selma. How did life in a cradle of the Civil Rights Movement inspire their work? And what does Odoms think is the future of the electoral process in Alabama?

Episode 6 poems:

"Manifest Destiny"

"Reparations Now, Reparations Tomorrow, Reparations Forever -- Using Text from George Wallace's 1963 Inaugural Address and Also from Me"

"Today I Saw a Black Man Open His Arms to the Wind"

Learn more about the voting rights organization whose work inspired this conversation:

Black Voters Matter