Here’s What You Need To Know About Selma, Alabama

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Here’s What You Need To Know About Selma, Alabama

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For the beginning of Black History month, this week we will be delving into Selma, Alabama, and the famous march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.

The march from Selma to Montgomery was a part of a series of protests against racism in deep southern states, including Alabama. This particular march from Selma to Alabama raised awareness for unfair voting rights for African Americans in southern states, even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In early 1965, Martin Luther King decided to make Selma the focus of a black voter registration campaign. Only 2 percent of Selma’s eligible black voters had managed to register to vote, about 300 out of 15,000 citizens. The governor of Alabama at the time, George Wallace, was an avid segregationist and staunchly opposed to black voter registration.

Before there was a successful march from Selma to Montgomery, there was “Bloody Sunday,” and the events that led up to it. On February 18, police and state troopers attacked a group of peaceful demonstrators in Marion, Alabama. During the chaos, an Alabama state trooper fatally shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young demonstrator.

Jimmie Lee Jackson

In response to this loss, MLK Jr. and the SCLC planned a protest march from Selma to Montgomery, which was 54 miles away. On March 7, 1965, a group of 600 people set out across Selma. This day would soon be known as “Bloody Sunday.”

Once the demonstrators reached the bridge at the edge of Selma, they were met by Alabama state troopers wielding whips, nightsticks and tear gas. They beat them back from the Edmund Pettus Bridge and back into Selma. After the attack on the bridge, the violence didn’t stop. Troopers chased demonstrators back into Selma and continued well into that night.

“Bloody Sunday,” Alabama State Trooper beating an activist with a nightstick

The violent scene on the Edmund Pettus Bridge was televised and drew national outrage throughout America. Soon, it drew several activists and religious leaders to Selma.

On March 9, MLK Jr. led 2,000 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but Highway 80 was blocked by state troopers yet again. King paused, and led the marchers to take a knee and pray. Even though the troopers stepped aside, King turned the protestors around.

MLK Jr. believed that “the troopers were trying to create an opportunity that would allow them to enforce a federal injunction prohibiting the march.” Despite criticism from protestors, King stuck to his beliefs.

The night of March 9th, white segregationists attacked another protester- this time a young, white minister James Reeb- beating him to death.

James Reeb

For the next few days, Alabama state officials tried to prevent the march from happening, but the U.S. district court judge ordered them to permit it. On March 15th, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the nation. He pledged his support to the protesters in Selma, and brought attention to a new voting rights bill that he was introducing to Congress.

“There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negros, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

On March 21, over 2,000 demonstrators joined together to make the march from Selma to Alabama. They were protected by U.S. Army troops and Alabama National Guard by order of the President. They walked 12 hours a day, and by March 25, they reached Montgomery.

Nearly 50,000 demonstrators met them at Montgomery. They all gathered in front of the State Capitol to hear speakers like MLK Jr. and others. 

The Selma to Montgomery March has had lasting effects on America, from new federal voting rights to protect African Americans from certain racial disparities that included literacy tests. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the most expansive and influential civil rights legislation in American history.