Protests in Selma and Montgomery before the March to Montgomery
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The Selma to Montgomery March
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Selma to Montgomery March – 1965
SNCC had been conducting voter registration efforts in the city of Selma, Alabama since early 1963, with modest results. In December of 1964, black leaders invited King, who had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the SCLC to help them overcome resistance to black voter registration. The face of opposition was Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark, who reported directly to state commissioner of public safety Al Lingo and governor George Wallace.
Beginning in mid-January 1965, King and SCLC leaders began daily marches from Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, located in the predominantly black part of town, to the county courthouse in downtown Selma, where the registration office was located. They came to register to vote, but Sheriff Clark arrested them for illegal assembly. After several days, hundreds of blacks, including King, had been arrested and jailed. In spite of a federal injunction to register at least 100 black voters per day, Clark and his “possemen”—deputized white citizens—supported by state troopers sent by Gov. Wallace, continued to arrest potential applicants, often resorting to strong-arm tactics. On February 18th, a nighttime demonstration in the nearby town of Marion was broken up by state troopers and possemen and in the ensuing violence a young black man, Jimmie Lee Jackson, was beaten so badly that he died a week later.
In response to the killing, SCLC leader James Bevel proposed a mass march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery to confront Gov. Wallace. The march was set for Sunday, March 7th, even though King could not be there due to a commitment to his church in Atlanta. Led by Hosea Williams and John Lewis, 600 marchers exited Selma via the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River. On the opposite side of the bridge stood more than 150 Alabama state troopers. Although the marchers stopped, the troopers moved forward. Shooting tear gas and swinging billy clubs, they beat many in the front ranks of the march and drove the marchers back over the bridge into Selma. As with Birmingham two years earlier, pictures of the violence were shown on national television that evening and splashed across newspaper front pages the next day. The event became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
King returned to Selma and immediately asked federal judge Frank Johnson to overrule the state’s prohibition against unauthorized assembly, and sent out an appeal to clergy members around the country to come and participate in a new march. As the days went by, the number of people coming to participate in the anticipated march swelled. Finally, on March 17th, Judge Johnson allowed the march to go on and ordered federal troops and Alabama National Guard to guard the route.
The 50-mile march began on Sunday, March 21st, with 3,200 marchers setting off down Alabama Route 80, known as the Jefferson Davis Highway. The march took five days. The number of participants varied day by day, but by the time the procession reached the outskirts of Montgomery on the fourth day, there were an estimated 25,000 marchers. On the final day, March 25th, some 50,000 people were on hand for the final walk to the state capitol and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s concluding speech.
The events in Selma caused President Johnson to call for a national voting rights bill. The proposed legislation overcame a filibuster by Southern senators, and was signed into law by President Johnson on August 6th, with Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders in attendance
-Text from the 2014 exhibition THE MOVEMENT curated by Peter Boswell