Donald Trump has chosen a white nationalist as his chief strategist and a white-nationalist sympathizer as his pick for Attorney General. Like the Confederate general he is named after, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has long been a leading voice for the Old South and the conservative white backlash vote Trump courted throughout his campaign. Sessions, as a US senator from Alabama, has been the fiercest opponent in the Senate of immigration reform, a centerpiece of Trump’s agenda, and has a long history of opposition to civil rights, dating back to his days as a US Attorney in Alabama in the 1980s.
The Senate rejected Sessions for a federal judgeship during the Reagan administration because of racist statements he made and for falsely prosecuting black political activists in Alabama. He opposed the Voting Rights Act, the country’s most important civil-rights law.
Here’s more on his checkered past, which is more relevant than ever today:
On March 7, 1965, Albert Turner, a tall, sturdy bricklayer from Marion, Alabama, walked directly behind John Lewis during the infamous Bloody Sunday march in Selma. When Lewis fell from the force of police blows, so did Turner. “I fell down and ran,” he said. “Then I fell down again and ran some more.”
After the passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), Turner became known as “Mr. Voter Registration,” working as Alabama field secretary for Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. After King’s assassination, Turner led the mule wagon that carried King’s body through the streets of Atlanta.
Because of Turner’s work, African Americans gained political control of many counties in the Alabama Black Belt, where you could practically count the number of black voters on one hand in 1965. But the flourishing of black political power in the Black Belt didn’t sit well with the old white power structure.
In the Democratic primary of September 1984, FBI agents hid behind the bushes of the Perry County post office, waiting for Turner and fellow activist Spencer Hogue to mail 500 absentee ballots on behalf of elderly black voters. When Turner and Hogue left, the feds seized the envelopes from the mail slots. Twenty elderly black voters from Perry County were bused three hours to Mobile, where they were interrogated by law-enforcement officials and forced to testify before a grand jury. Ninety-two-year-old Willie Bright was so frightened of “the law” that he wouldn’t even admit he’d voted.
In January 1985, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the 39-year-old US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, charged Turner, his wife Evelyn, and Hogue with 29 counts of mail fraud, altering absentee ballots, and conspiracy to vote more than once. They faced over 100 years in jail on criminal charges and felony statutes under the VRA—provisions of the law that had scarcely been used to prosecute the white officials who had disenfranchised blacks for so many years. The Turners and Hogue became known as the Marion Three. (This story is best told in Lani Guinier’s book Lift Every Voice.)