The purpose of the demonstration was part of a voting registration campaign in Selma, the seat of Dallas County, Alabama, which had a record of consistent resistance to black voting. The Selma marchers were met with violence from heavily armed state troopers who used tear-gas clubs and horses to dispel the participants.
There was extensive television and newspapers coverage of the Selma March which became known as "Bloody Sunday". Demonstrations in support of the marchers were held in 80 towns and cities. A short, "symbolic" second march was made on March 9, 1965. The third March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, led Dr. Martin Luther King was highly protected. It began on 21 March 1965 from Selma and ended on 25 March 1965 in Montgomery. The demonstrations resulted in the Voting Rights Act passing into law less than five months following the protest marches.
Facts about Selma March
African Americans continued to have difficulty registering to vote in many areas and voter registration campaigns met with intimidation and bitter, often violent, opposition.
African Americans made up almost half the population, but only 2% were registered voters.
The First March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, took place on March 7, 1965 and was organized by John Lewis a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who had been one of the original 1961 Freedom Riders. John Lewis became one of the "Big Six" leaders of the Civil Rights Movement
The first Selma marchers, who numbered about 600, were met with violence from heavily armed state troopers and were tear-gassed, clubbed and trampled by horses at the edge of the city, by the Edmund Pettus Bridge. More than fifty of the marchers were hospitalized.
There was extensive television and newspapers coverage of the event that became known as "Bloody Sunday".
Demonstrations in support of the marchers, protesting against the violence of Bloody Sunday, were held in 80 towns and cities across the nation. Dr. Martin Luther King called for civil rights supporters to come to Selma for a second "symbolic" March to Selma on March 9, 1965 to highlight the voting issue.
The second march to Selma on March 9, 1965 ended abruptly at a barricade of state troopers. Dr. Martin Luther King turned it around at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the same bridge that had been the scene of the violent conflict.
The abandonment of the second Selma March caused tension with the more militant activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who were advocating more radical tactics. The SNCC were moving from the non-violent protests of Dr. Martin Luther King to more active opposition to racism.
Dr. Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights leaders sought court protection for a third, full-scale march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery.
On March 20, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued an executive order federalizing the Alabama National Guard and authorizes whatever federal forces the Defense Secretary deems necessary.
On Sunday 21 March 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King led the third, 54-mile (87 km), march from Selma to Montgomery. It was attended by 3,200 marchers and was protected by 2,000 U.S. Army soldiers, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, closely watched by many FBI agents and Federal Marshals.
The marchers walked at a pace of about 12 miles each day, and slept in fields along the way. By the time they reached the state capital of Montgomery on Thursday, March 25, their numbers had swelled to over 25,000.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Johnson on August 6, 1965 to safeguard the right to vote of Black Americans and banning the use of literacy tests.
Less than five months after the three marches, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The new law had an immediate impact on African Americans. By the end of 1965 250,000 new black voters had been registered
The Selma to Montgomery march has been re-enacted many times on its anniversary. In 1996 the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail was created by Congress
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