The three Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 were part of the Selma Voting Rights Movement and led to the passage that year of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark federal achievement of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. Activists publicized the three protest marches to walk the 54-mile highway from Selma to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery as showing the desire of black American citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote, in defiance of segregationist repression.
A voters registration campaign in Selma had been launched in 1963 by local African Americans, who formed the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL). Joined by organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), they began working that year in a renewed effort to register black voters. Most of the millions of African Americans across the South had effectively been disenfranchised since the turn of the century by a series of discriminatory requirements and practices. Finding resistance by white officials to be intractable, even after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ending segregation, the DCVL invited Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the activists of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to join them. SCLC brought many prominent civil rights and civic leaders to Selma in January 1965. Local and regional protests began, with 3,000 persons arrested by the end of February.
On February 26, activist and deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson died after being mortally shot several days earlier by a state trooper during a peaceful march in Marion, Alabama. The community was sorrowed and outraged. To defuse and refocus the anger, SCLC Director of Direct Action James Bevel, who was directing SCLC’s Selma Voting Rights Movement, called for a march of dramatic length, from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery.Bevel had been working on his Alabama Project for voting rights since late 1963.
The first march took place on March 7, 1965. Bevel, Amelia Boynton, and others helped organize it. The march gained the nickname “Bloody Sunday” after its 600 marchers were attacked at the Edmund Pettus Bridge after leaving Selma; state troopers and county posse attacked the unarmed marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. Boynton was one of those beaten unconscious; a picture of her lying wounded on the bridge was published and televised around the world. The second march took place March 9; troopers, police, and marchers confronted each other, but when the troopers stepped aside to let them pass, King led the marchers back to the church. He was seeking protection by a federal court for the march. That night, a white group beat and murdered civil rights activist James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston, who had come to Selma to march in the second march, which had been joined by many other clergy and sympathizers from across the country.
The violence of “Bloody Sunday” and of Reeb’s death led to a national outcry and some acts of civil disobedience, targeting both the Alabama state and federal governments. The protesters demanded protection for the Selma marchers and a new federal voting rights law to enable African Americans to register and vote without harassment. President Lyndon Johnson, whose administration had been working on a voting rights law, held a televised joint session of Congress on March 15 to ask for the bill’s introduction and passage.
With Governor Wallace refusing to protect the marchers, President Johnson committed to do so. The third march started March 21. Protected by 2,000 soldiers of the U.S. Army, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and many FBI agents and Federal Marshals, the marchers averaged 10 miles (16 km) a day along U.S. Route 80, known in Alabama as the “Jefferson Davis Highway“. The marchers arrived in Montgomery on March 24 and at the Alabama State Capitol on March 25. With thousands having joined the campaign, 25,000 people entered the capital city that day in support of voting rights.
50th Anniversary “Bloody Sunday”, The Selma-to-Montgomery March
Selma To Montgomery Voting Rights Trail, a U.S. National Historic Trail
Alabama police chief apologizes to Freedom Rider congressman
3/4/13 By Craig Giammona, NBC News
An Alabama police chief brought Rep. John Lewis to tears Saturday, apologizing to the noted civil rights leader for failing to protect the Freedom Riders during a trip to Montgomery in 1961.
Lewis and fellow civil rights activists were beaten by a mob after arriving at Montgomery’s Greyhound station in May 1961. [The march was tried again but the marchers were again brutualized. The third time was successful with the protection of the US Army].
On Saturday at ceremony at First Baptist Church, the city’s current police chief, Kevin Murphy, apologized to Lewis and offered him his badge in a gesture of reconciliation, telling the longtime Georgia congressman that Montgomery police had “enforced unjust laws” in failing to protect the Freedom Riders more than five decades ago.
Lewis, who was arrested during civil rights protests in cities across the south, said it was the first time a police chief had apologized to him.
“It means a great deal,” Lewis said. “I teared up. I tried to keep from crying.”
Lewis and other members of Congress were taking part in the 13th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama, a three-day event that also included trips to Selma, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
Murphy said the decision to apologize was easy.
“For me, freedom and the right to live in peace is a cornerstone of our society and that was something that Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Congressman Lewis were trying to achieve” Murphy said. “I think what I did today should have been done a longtime ago. It needed to be done. It needed to be spoken because we have to live with the truth and it is the truth.”
Leonard Pitts Jr.: What was won in Selma 50 years ago being lost today
3/03/2015 6:14 PM Leonard Pitts Jr – Miami Herald
First, they sang God Will Take Care of You.
Then they walked out of Brown Chapel to a playground where they organized themselves into 24 groups of 25 each and set out marching. Their route out of Selma took them onto Highway 80, which is carried over the Alabama River by a bridge named in honor of Confederate general and Alabama Ku Klux Klan leader Edmund W. Pettus.
It was about 2:30 on the afternoon of Sunday, March 7, 1965.
At the foot of the bridge, the marchers were met by Alabama state troopers. Some were on horseback. Major John Cloud spoke to the marchers through a bullhorn. “It would be detrimental to your safety to continue this march,” he said. “And I’m saying that this is an unlawful assembly. You are to disperse. You are ordered to disperse. Go home or go to your church. This march will not continue. Is that clear to you?”
He gave them two minutes to comply. Just over one minute later, he ordered troopers to advance.
They moved toward the marchers, truncheons held waist high, parallel to the ground. But something seemed to overtake them as they pushed into the demonstrators. The troopers began to stampede, sweeping over unarmed women, children and men as a wave does a shore.
Teargas filled the air. Lawmen on horseback swept down on fleeing marchers, wielding batons, cattle prods, rubber hoses studded with spikes. Skin was split. Bones were broken. The marchers were beaten all the way back into town. A teenager was hurled through a church window. On the bridge, the cheers and rebel yells of onlookers mingled with the shrieks of the sufferers and became indistinguishable.
Thus was the pavement of the freest country on Earth stained with the blood of citizens seeking their right to vote.
By rights, this 50th anniversary of those events should be an unalloyed celebration. After all, the marchers, fortified by men and women of good will from all over the country, eventually crossed that bridge under federal protection, marched for four days up Highway 80 and made it to, as the song says, glory. They stood at the state capital in Montgomery and heard Martin Luther King exhort them to hold on and be strong. “Truth crushed to Earth,” he thundered, “will rise again!”
The Voting Rights Act was signed into law. And African Americans, who had been excluded from the ballot box for generations, went on to help elevate scores of citizens who looked like them to the mayor’s office, the governor’s mansion, the White House.
So yes, this should be a time of celebration. But the celebration is shadowed by a sobering reality.
In 2013, the Voting Rights Act was castrated by the Supreme Court under the dubious reasoning that its success proved it was no longer needed. And states, responding to a nonexistent surge of election fraud, have rushed to impose onerous new photo ID laws for voters. When it is observed that the laws will have their heaviest impact on young people, poor people and African Americans — those least likely to have photo ID — defenders of the laws point to that imaginary surge of fraud and assure us voter suppression is the furthest thing from their minds.
US Minorities Civil Rights Timeline 1863-1963 (ProPresObama.org Civil Rights Timelines ™)
US Minorities Civil Rights Timeline 1964-2009 (ProPresObama.org Civil Rights Timelines ™)
March 7, 2015
President Obama delivers remarks to commemorate the
50th Anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ Selma to Montgomery Marches