Alabama Commission to Preserve the Peace
The Alabama Legislative Commission to Preserve the Peace was a former state commission, created alongside the Alabama Sovereignty Commission by an act of the Alabama State Legislature in 1963. Ed Stricklin chaired the Commission, whose meetings and actions were specifically exempted from the state's public meetings and open records laws.
During its tenure, the Commission investigated numerous persons and groups suspected of seeking to promote changes to Alabama's established racial segregation. Among those were the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and numerous participants in the Civil Rights Movement, including significant out-of-state sympathizers. Later the commission gathered first-person reports from meetings of the Black Panthers and the Lowndes County Freedom Party. Other groups that fell under the Commission's inquiries were the Alabama Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Human Rights Association, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Nucleus Club, said to have been headed by Richmond Pearson and Richard Arrington. Lucius Amerson of Macon County, the state's first elected black sheriff, was also investigated by the Commission.
The Commission placed a special focus on "dissident" activities at college campuses. They investigated tips about faculty who expressed "unusual" political, religious or sexual views. According to Stricklin, the Commission kept tabs on reports of teachers involved in interracial romantic relationships and targeted other individuals that it perceived as "hippies". It counted students, faculty members and university officials, including University of Alabama president Frank Rose among its informants.
Outside of its staff, the Commission's reports were circulated in the legislative committees overseeing its work. It was claimed that the Commission also shared some of its findings with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. There was further evidence that the Commission made its findings available for use in the political campaigns of Governor George Wallace and Attorney General of Alabama McDonald Gallion.
Stricklin wrote to Governor Wallace on the Monday following "Bloody Sunday" when Civil Rights demonstrators were beaten by state and local police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Stricklin concluded that the purpose of the march was to court violence and that, if left to continue, they would be unprepared to continue walking all the way to Montgomery. He recommended that police not confront the marchers the following day. Wallace agreed to the strategy, and Martin Luther King, not wishing to violate a court's injunction, called a halt to the march himself. During the day's events, photographers and filmmakers hired by the Sovereignty Commission extensively documented the crowd's interactions, focusing on scenes of cross-racial camaraderie. That footage was used in a state-funded propaganda film, State of Alabama, which was distributed by the Sovereignty Commission in late summer.
Some state legislators began calling for defunding the Commission as early as 1971, but Wallace fought to preserve its existence. The State Sovereignty Commission lost its funding in the state's 1973 budget. In 1975 Wallace's proposed state budget would have transferred $20 million from the state's education budget to the general fund, and allocated $58,000 to the operations of the Commission to Preserve the Peace. Paul Hubbert and the Alabama Education Association were successful in restoring most of those funds back to the education budget, which included eliminating the Commission's allotment.
A lawsuit was brought against the Commission by the American Civil Liberties Union in September 1975. Commission staff apparently destroyed many of its internal files that same month. The Commission was ordered to cease all activities by judge Frank Johnson in April 1976.
- "Senate kills governor's plan in education." (September 25, 1975) Athens News-Courier
- "State peace group snooped on many." (May 17, 1976) Anniston Star
- Pendleton, Debbie (January 2017) "State of Alabama: The Story of a Film." Alabama Review. Vol. 70, No. 1, pp. 3-21
- Lyman, Brian (February 10, 2019) "State of Alabama:' The racist anti-Selma film, and the secret state commission that funded it." Montgomery Advertiser