TUSKEGEE, Ala. -- Two women convicted of voting fraud for marking the ballots of elderly and illiterate blacks are free today, ending a 10-month sentence that stirred marches and letter-writing protests worldwide.
Maggie Bozeman, 51, and Julia Wilder, 70, said they just want to go home.
The women were convicted in 1979 of illegally marking absentee ballots for 39 elderly and often illiterate blacks without their knowledge for a September 1978 Democratic runoff election.
After exhausting all appeals up to the U.S. Supreme Court, Mrs. Bozeman was sentenced in January to four years in prison and Mrs. Wilder to five years. They spent 11 days in a women's prison before being transferred to a Tuskegee work release program and were given paroles once they became eligible.
Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford said paperwork officially releasing the women was received late Monday, but they agreed to remain in Macon County for a special ceremony today.
'A releasing ceremony has been planned so national figures and friends will have a chance to say to the ladies, upon their release, how proud we are of the way they have conducted themselves while on the work release program,' said Ford.
The rally at the Macon County Courthouse was to include a speech by Dr. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Another rally was scheduled in Pickens County, the women's home.
'I've enjoyed being here in Tuskegee, but you know there's no place like home,' Mrs. Wilder said during an earlier interview. 'Why, I was born and raised in Pickens County. You know if I get paroled, I'll want to go home.'
Mrs. Bozeman said her family helped her through her sentence.
'And the mail, you wouldn't believe,' she said. 'One day, I think we got 500 letters. I haven't had time to read them all. They're from all over the world.'
Civil rights leaders across the country made the Pickens County women their cause. Protesters staged a 150-mile march from Carrollton, the county seat, to Montgomery, last February and the spring march from Alabama to Washington to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act urged lawmakers to free the 'Carrollton Two.'
The State Department said even the American Embassy in Amsterdam was swamped with protest letters and calls after Dutch National Television broadcast a 10-minute segment on the women's case.
While on work release, Mrs. Bozeman taught classes at a mental health center and Mrs. Wilder was employed at a senior citizens center.
Shortly after their transfer to Tuskegee, the women were allowed to move into a private home. They have always maintained their innocence.
'I would like to express my thanks for the contributions they made while here,' said Ford. 'We feel that they were not treated properly, therefore we are supporting their lawyers' attempts to get total vindication from the courts.'