On Sunday, March 21, 1965, nearly 8,000 people began the five-day march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights.
March from Selma to Montgomery - HISTORY
The eyes of the nation and the world focused
on central Alabama in early 1965 as Civil
Rights leaders pushed their campaign for
voting rights to a climactic point.
A series of non-violent protest marches in
Green, Hale, Wilcox, Perry, Dalles, Lowndes
and Montgomery counties has prompted a
court injunction curtailing the rights of those
involved to march. This, in turn, led the Dallas
County Voters League (DCVL) to expand its
efforts to assure that all Alabama citizens
were able to exercise their rights to vote.
A melee broke out in February when a night
march ended in violence that took the life of
protester Jimmy Lee Jackson. Mortally
wounded, he died in a Selma hospital seven
The death of Jackson sparked a plan to
organize a march that would proceed from
Selma for 54-miles to Montgomery, where
leaders of the movement hoped to meet with
Alabama Governor George C. Wallace.
The planned march began at 3 p.m. on
Sunday, March 7, 1965. The day is widely
remembered now as "Bloody Sunday."
Led by Hosea Williams, John Lewis, Albert
Turner and Bob Mants, a group of roughly
300 people marched through Selma to the
Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama
River. As the march went forward, others
joined and by the time the group reached the
bridge, its number has swelled to more than
600 people. On the opposite side of the
bridge, a force of Alabama State Troops and
horseback mounted vigilantes waited.
As the marchers crossed the high arch of the
bridge and descended to the side opposite
Selma, they were ordered to disperse. The
situation quickly got out of hand and volleys
of tear gas were lobbed into the crowd of
marchers. Confusion and violence reigned
as the crowd of protesters was attacked with
clubs. People fled back across the bridge in
confusion. The Sisters of Saint Joseph at
Good Samaritan Hospital and the staff of a
local clinic treated hundreds for their injuries.
"Bloody Sunday" proved to be a pivotal event
in American history. Television cameras had
recorded the scene and viewers nationwide
soon saw images of the violence coming into
their own living rooms.
As both messages and messengers of
support poured into Selma, a breakthrough
decision came from the Federal courts. U.S.
District Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., ruled
that the protesters had a right to peacefully
assemble and march, even if their marching
limited mobility on public highways. The state
had maintained that the march would have
limited the use of U.S. Highway 80 by regular
On March 21, 1965, two weeks to the day
after "Bloody Sunday," the march started
again. Protected by police and National
Guard troops, an estimated 3,200 marchers
from across the country walked across the
Edmund Pettus Bridge and started their
march to Montgomery. People of all races
and from all walks of life took part.
The full group marched for six miles to a rail
crossing where, as previously agreed, many
went back to Selma to prevent the highway
system from being completely overwhelmed.
It took four nights for the marchers to reach
Dexter Avenue in front of the Alabama State
Capitol. Advance teams set up camps along
the way and teams of doctors and nurses
treated marchers for sprains, blisters and
other injuries resulting from the miles of
It was a landmark moment in U.S. history that
brought the eyes of the world to a stretch of
highway connecting the cities of Selma and
The march reached the City of St. Jude in
Montgomery on the night of March 24, 1965,
where a "Stars for Freedom" Rally was held.
A crowd of 25,000 listened to an A-list of
stars including Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez,
Tony Bennett, Leonard Bernstein, Dick
Gregory, Lena Horne, "Peter, Paul & Mary,"
Shelley Winters and others.
The marchers reached the state capitol
building on March 25, 1965. The crowd
overflowed Dexter Avenue for blocks as Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous
"How Long, Not Long" speech to the tens of
thousands of people. Governor Wallace did
not meet with the leaders as they had hoped,
although watched and listened from inside
the capitol building.
The widespread news coverage of the Selma
to Montgomery March brought about dramatic
change in American culture. Public opinion
on the matter shifted and one day after the
march ended, President Lyndon Johnson
presented a bill that would become the
historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the U.S.
In his speech to a joint session of Congress,
President Johnson declared that the cause
of the marchers "must be our cause too."
Continuing on, he told the nation's leaders
that, "really it is all of us who must overcome
the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
And we shall overcome."
Established by Congress and President Bill
Clinton in 1996, the Selma to Montgomery
National Historic Trail now follows U.S.
Highway 80 from Selma to Montgomery. The
developing national park area preserves the
route of the march and key sites associated
with its progress.
Signs mark campsites along the way and the
stunning Selma and Lowndes Interpretive
Centers are now open. They are the first two
of three National Park Service interpretive
centers planned for the park.
Primary Sources: Civil Rights in America - the 1960s: Selma to Montgomery March (1965)
"n March 6, 1965 – one day before the demonstration now known as Bloody Sunday took place in Selma, Alabama -- seventy-two white citizens from throughout Alabama gathered on the steps of the Dallas County Courthouse to demonstrate support for the planned Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march. An off-shoot of the interracial Alabama Council on Human Relations, the group was comprised of white Alabamians who were ready to do more and talk less about the need for social change. They called themselves the Concerned White Citizens of Alabama (CWCA).
In response to suggestions from Civil Rights Movement leaders and organizers of the Voting Rights March, CWCA members prepared and served food to marchers at stops along their way from Selma to the state capitol when the Voting Rights March took place in March 1965. Later that year, the group began to raise funds to support the legal defense of Caliph Washington, a young man they believed was a victim of police brutality—another issue with which the group was concerned from its inception. The group ratified its organizational constitution on May 8, 1965. The Concerned White Citizens of Alabama records consist of the organization’s constitution, statement of purpose, minutes from meetings, and correspondence between officers of the organization and a variety of supporters, media representatives, and elected officials. In addition, the records contain membership cards, mailing lists, envelopes, flyers, bank statements, and many more. Of particular interest are flyers distributed throughout the state by the CWCA, as well as a series of sworn citizens’ statements related to the case of Caliph Washington. These items were donated by the group’s secretary, Eileen Walbert, to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in 1992."
The Selma-to-Montgomery Marches
Article on how civil rights activists marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and helped the Voting Rights Act of 1965 pass.
Anthropology, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography
For 100 years after African Americans were granted the right to vote, that right was steadily taken away. In March 1965, thousands of people held a series of marches in the U.S. state of Alabama in an effort to get that right back. Their march from Selma to Montgomery, the capital, was a success, leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
African Americans first earned their right to vote in 1870, just five years after the United States ended the Civil War. That year, Congress adopted the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed the right to vote to Black men of voting age. (Black women, like all other women, were not allowed to vote until 1920.)
The 15th Amendment was successful in getting Black men to the polls. Selma elected its first Black congressman, Benjamin Sterling Turner, the year the amendment passed. Citizens of Selma then elected Black city councilmen and a criminal court judge.
However, in 1876, the U.S. Supreme Court and many state courts narrowed the scope of the 15th Amendment. They said it did not always guarantee the right to vote. Soon, Black men began to lose their voting rights, especially in the South. This region of the United States had supported the Confederacy during the Civil War and had relied on enslaved people for much labor before their emancipation, or freedom.
Black voters were disenfranchised. To be disenfranchised means that a person or group of people loses the right to vote. Disenfranchisement happened in many ways.
People who register a person to vote are called voter registrars or voting registrars. In the South, voter registrars were given broad powers to prevent Black people from registering to vote any way they could.
Black people wanting to register to vote were given what were called &ldquoliteracy tests.&rdquo Literacy is the ability to read and is not a requirement to vote in the United States. However, these literacy tests did not even test reading ability.
Registrars could ask people any kind of question about local, state, and federal government. If a potential voter did not answer correctly, the registrar did not allow that person to vote. Questions could be ridiculously difficult. A sample question asked on a literacy test was, "Name one area of authority over state militia reserved exclusively to the states." (Answer: The appointment of officers.) White people were not given literacy tests.
If Black voters passed a literacy test, they were often forced to pay a poll tax. A poll tax was a fee that a voter had to pay in order to vote. The amount of the poll tax varied&mdashusually between $1 and $2. This seems like a small amount. However, the yearly income of a person in the 1880s could be as low as $70 or $80.
Civil rights leader Rosa Parks wrote about the poll tax in her autobiography, My Story. "You had to pay the poll tax back to the time you were twenty-one,&rdquo she remembered. &ldquoI got registered in 1945 when I was thirty-two years old, so I had to pay $1.50 for each of the eleven years between the time I was twenty-one and the time I was thirty-two. At that time $16.50 was a lot of money."
Finally, after the tests had been passed and the poll tax paid, Black people had to find a registered voter willing to say they were good people and would make fine voters. Most voters in the South were white and would not do this.
As a result, very few Black people were able to vote. They were fired from their jobs and received death threats just for trying to register. By 1965, there were counties in Alabama where not a single Black person had voted for more than 50 years. In Selma, about half the voting-age population was Black, but only 14 blacks had been added to the voting rolls between 1954 and 1961.
Civil Rights Movement
But things were starting to change. In 1963, Bernard Lafayette, a member of a civil rights group called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced &ldquosnick&rdquo), came to Selma's Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church. It was the first mass meeting for voter rights in the South. For the next two years, SNCC and the Dallas County Voters League registered 200 new voters. (Selma is in Dallas County, Alabama.) This was progress, but it was barely 1 percent of the 15,000 eligible Black voters in Dallas County.
Amelia Boynton of the voters league wrote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.&mdash already the most famous civil rights leader in the United States&mdashand the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and asked them to help with their voting rights campaign.
Alabama was the center of the civil rights movement, which defined itself on nonviolence and political action. King helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, which led to a Supreme Court decision that said segregated busing was unconstitutional. In 1963, King wrote &ldquoLetter from Birmingham Jail,&rdquo where he was confined after taking part in a protest of segregation in Birmingham, Alabama.
Selma itself had a history of political activism. The town&rsquos Black citizens were committed to helping people register to vote. But they were challenged by Sheriff Jim Clark, the Dallas County law enforcement leader. Clark was a vicious racist and was often violent. Civil rights activists believed that if people from across the United States knew how badly Clark treated the citizens of Selma, they would be moved to help.
On January 2, 1965, King held a mass meeting in Selma, declaring: &ldquoWe are going to bring a voting bill into the streets of Selma, Alabama.&rdquo Demonstrators would walk from Brown Chapel AME, the church were King delivered the speech, and end up at the Dallas County courthouse. There, they would register to vote.
Clark met the protesters with violence. The front pages of national newspapers carried photos of him treating the demonstrators very badly. He shoved Amelia Boynton half a block down to a patrol car and beat hotel manager Annie Lee Cooper in the head with his billy club. (A billy club, also called a baton or truncheon, is the stick that law enforcement officers often carry.) Clark hit the Rev. C.T. Vivian so hard that he broke a finger. On February 10, Clark and his men rounded up a group of children in front of the courthouse and forced them to run five miles to a prison camp outside of town.
Clark's actions strengthened the determination of the marchers, and drew the attention of the rest of the nation.
The marches and demonstrations in Selma were not the only ones happening in Alabama. To the west, in neighboring Perry County, a night march was held to protest the jailing of activist the Rev. James Orange. Police and racist whites beat the marchers. Army veteran Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot in the stomach by a state trooper as he rushed to protect his mother from attack. Jackson died in Selma's Good Samaritan Hospital eight days later. It was Jackson's death that sparked the idea of a march from Selma to Montgomery to demand equal voting rights.
The idea of expanding the march from the courthouse of Dallas County to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, 87 kilometers (54 miles) away, showed how much the movement had grown. Marchers wanted to pressure Alabama Gov. George Wallace to guarantee Black people the right to vote in his state.
First March: Bloody Sunday
The first march took place on March 7, 1965. Marchers filed out of Brown Chapel AME and tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, heading west out of Selma and toward Montgomery.
Sheyann Webb was 8 years old. She was the youngest marcher that day. She describes getting to the high part of the bridge and seeing Clark and his men on the other side. "They were in a line&mdashthey looked like a blue picket fence&mdashstretched across the highway."
Clark&rsquos group included law enforcement officers, state troopers, and local citizens recruited as a &ldquoposse.&rdquo Gov. Wallace and Clark called the march a threat to public safety and were determined to stop it.
As about 525 marchers made their way across the bridge, officers asked them to stop the march and disperse, or scatter. The leaders of the march, John Lewis of SNCC and the Rev. Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said the march was a peaceful protest. The marchers did not disperse.
All local and state police were armed. Many of the sheriff&rsquos posse had their own weapons. After Lewis and Williams refused to disperse the marchers, troopers threw canisters of tear gas at them. Police on foot and on horseback beat marchers with billy clubs. They shot water from fire hoses with enough pressure to knock down and bruise the marchers. Members of the posse attacked the marchers with crude weapons made of rubber tubing wrapped in barbed wire.
Marchers fled back across the bridge to Brown Chapel and the surrounding neighborhood. Physicians at Good Samaritan Hospital reported that wounds ranged from broken teeth and severe head gashes to fractured ribs and wrists. John Lewis suffered a fractured skull and Amelia Boynton was beaten unconscious. About 70 to 80 people were treated, and 17 of the most seriously injured were sent to the hospital overnight.
This first march to Montgomery is known as Bloody Sunday.
Second March: Turnaround Tuesday
Photographs and television footage of the events of Bloody Sunday were national news. Americans were forced to recognize the violent racism in their own borders. Millions of Americans were horrified by the acts of Clark and Wallace, and became supporters of civil rights.
King encouraged these new supporters to come to Selma for a second march to Montgomery. Specifically, King sent a telegram to religious leaders across the country asking them to join him in Selma. Many people of all races and spiritual backgrounds responded to him.
On Tuesday, March 9, just two days after the events of Bloody Sunday, King led a second march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This time, there were about 1,500 marchers. Again, they were met by troopers and other law enforcement officers. However, as the officers approached King to ask him to disperse the crowd, King knelt in prayer.
Marchers prayed and turned back to Brown Chapel, deciding not to risk another day of violence. This second march is sometimes called Turnaround Tuesday for this reason.
Tuesday evening, three ministers in town for the march were brutally attacked in Selma. One, the Rev. James Reeb, died from his wounds.
President Lyndon Johnson called the violence that was happening in Alabama &ldquoan American tragedy.&rdquo A week after Reeb&rsquos death, Johnson&rsquos voting rights proposals reached Congress.
Third March: Success
The third march to Montgomery started on March 21, 1965. During the next four days, peaceful protesters from all over the country marched for civil rights. This time, marchers were protected by members of the National Guard, ordered there by President Johnson.
Between 3,000 and 8,000 people marched from Brown Chapel on March 21. However, only 300 were allowed to march on the two-lane highway to Montgomery.
Marchers walked an average of 12 miles per day and slept in farmers&rsquo fields. The weather was unusually cold. Temperatures dropped below freezing, and it rained almost every day. Food was supplied by local churches and other organizations that supported civil rights. The final &ldquocampsite&rdquo of the march was on land owned by the City of St. Jude, a Catholic charity that had supported the Black community outside Montgomery for years.
Marchers were joined at the City of St. Jude by celebrities. Some, like actor and musician Harry Belafonte, had marched from Brown Chapel days earlier. Others, such as entertainers Sammy Davis Jr., Nina Simone, Tony Bennett, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, joined for the final walk to Montgomery.
Twenty-five thousand peaceful protesters made their way to the Alabama State Capitol on March 25. Gov. Wallace refused to meet King. King&rsquos speech, given on the steps of the capitol, encouraged civil rights supporters not to give up hope.
"I know some of you are asking today, &lsquoHow long will it take?&rsquo I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth pressed to the earth will rise again. How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because you will reap what you sow. How long? Not long, because the arm of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."
Voting Rights Act of 1965
The Voting Rights Act was signed into law on August 6, 1965, in the same room where President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The law stopped literacy tests in 26 states, including Alabama. It replaced local voter registrars with examiners from the federal government. It allowed the attorney general of the United States to prosecute state and local authorities that still charged a poll tax.
The law had immediate effect. Thirty-two thousand Black people registered to vote by the end of August in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana. By October, that number rose to 110,000. From 1964 to 1966, the number of registered voters in Alabama went from 23 percent to 51 percent. In Mississippi, the number went from 6.7 percent to 33 percent in 1968, the number rose to 59 percent.
Candidates quickly realized they could not appeal to racist whites and still get elected. One of those candidates was Clark. He lost to Wilson Baker in the 1966 sheriff's race.
Black voters helped elect Black candidates and moderate whites to public office. By 1970, 711 blacks held elected positions in the South, nearly 10 times more than they had just a decade earlier.
In 2006, Congress voted to extend the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years.
John Lewis, the SNCC leader who was involved with the Selma to Montgomery marches from the beginning, is now a Georgia congressman. Lewis has returned to Selma many times for marches on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
On the 40th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Lewis said, "President Johnson signed that Act, but it was written by the people of Selma."
Photograph by Mary Schons
Be a Poll Worker
Becoming a poll worker is a great way to get involved in elections if you are not old enough to vote. Poll workers are important for fair and efficient elections. Go to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's website to find out how to volunteer on Election Day in your area.
Some organizers say Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not initially support the idea of a march from Selma to Montgomery. King was meeting with President Lyndon Johnson, and may have believed greater progress could be made on voting rights by negotiating with leaders from the government.
After that first march ended in the violence of Bloody Sunday, however, King immediately went to Selma to show his support for the effort and lead a second march two days later. He also encouraged other Americans to join him in Selma for a major march weeks later. More than 3,000 people responded.
March 21 — This Day in History: Selma to Montgomery March Begins
In the name of African-American voting rights, 3,200 civil rights demonstrators, led by Martin Luther King Jr., begin a historic march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capitol at Montgomery. Federalized Alabama National Guardsmen and FBI agents were on hand to provide safe passage for themarch, which twice had been turned back by Alabama state police at Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge.
In 1965, King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) decided to make the small town of Selma the focus of their drive to win voting rights for African Americans in the South. Alabama’s governor, George Wallace, was a vocal opponent of the African-American civil rights movement, and local authorities in Selma had consistently thwarted efforts by the Dallas County Voters League and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register local blacks. In spite of repeated registration campaigns, only 2 percent of eligible blacks were on the voter rolls. Furthermore, the local sheriff was notoriously brutal, and so seemed sure to respond in so galling a way as to attract national attention.
King had won the 1964 Nobel Prize for Peace, and the world’s eyes turned to Selma after his arrival there in January 1965. He launched a series of peaceful protests, and by mid-February thousands of protesters in the Selma area had spent time in jail, including King himself.
On February 18, a group of white segregationists attacked some peaceful marchers in the nearby town of Marion. Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young African American, wasshot by a state trooperin the melee. After he died, King and the SCLC planned a massive march from Selma to Montgomery. Although Governor Wallace promised to prevent it from going forward, on March 7 some 500 demonstrators, led by SCLC leader Hosea Williams and SNCC leader John Lewis, began the 54-mile march to the state capital. After crossing Pettus Bridge, they were met by Alabama state troopers and posse men who attacked them with nightsticks, tear gas, and whips after they refused to turn back. Several of the protesters were severely beaten, and others ran for their lives. The incident was captured on national television and outraged many Americans. Hundreds of ministers, priests, and rabbis headed to Selma to join the voting rights campaign. King, who was in Atlanta at the time, promised to return to Selma immediately and lead another attempt.
On March 9, King led more than 2,000 marchers, black and white, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge but found Highway 80 blocked again by state troopers. King paused the marchers and led them in prayer, whereupon the troopers stepped aside. King then turned the protesters around, believing that the troopers were trying to create an opportunity that would allow them to enforce a federal injunction prohibiting the march. This decision led to criticism from some marchers who called King cowardly. In Selma that night, James Reeb, a white minister from Boston, was fatally beaten by a group of segregationists.
Six days later, on March 15, President Lyndon Johnson went on national television to pledge his support to the Selma protesters and call for the passage of a new voting rights bill that he was introducing in Congress. “There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem,” he said, “…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, U.S. Army troops and federalized Alabama National Guardsmen escorted the marchers across Edmund Pettus Bridge and down Highway 80. When the highway narrowed to two lanes, only 300 marchers were permitted, but thousands more rejoined the Alabama Freedom March as it came into Montgomery on March 25. On the steps of the Alabama State Capitol, King addressed live television cameras and a crowd of 25,000, just a few hundred feet from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where he got his start as a minister in 1954. That August, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed African Americans the right to vote.
Between the passing of the act and the May 1966 primary, 122,000 blacks registered to votein the state. This represented a quarter of Alabama’s voters.
March 23, 1965: Selma to Montgomery March Continues
On March 23, 1965, the Selma to Montgomery marches continued.
As the march traveled through Lowndes County, Stokely Carmichael and others from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee talked with local residents and helped to organize the Lowndes County Freedom Party (LCFP).
Here is a description excerpted from the SNCC Digital Gateway:
Stokely Carmichael had made contacts with some of the local residents during the Selma-to-Montgomery March in March of 1965, but, at first, people were wary of Carmichael and the SNCC workers accompanying him. An important breakthrough occurred when, while handing out voter registration material at a local school, he was confronted by two policeman who ordered him to leave. Carmichael refused and challenged the officers to either leave him alone or arrest him. Flustered, the officers backed down, causing the SNCC workers to be “swarmed” by young people and to boost respect for SNCC in the county.
As word spread, Carmichael and the other SNCC workers were able to work with John Hulett and other local leaders to organize residents into a new political organization: the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). Bringing the lessons of the Delta to Alabama, Carmichael recognized conversation with local people and confrontation when necessary as important to triggering change. The new, independent Black political party in Lowndes County came to represent Black power. The Lowndes County Freedom Party, whose symbol was a black panther, became a powerful and pioneering political force in a state where the Democratic Party prevented the participation of Black people, and whose symbol was a white rooster with the words “white supremacy for the right” written above it. Read more at SNCC Digital Gateway.
Who Gets to Vote? Teaching About the Struggle for Voting Rights in the United States
Teaching Activity. By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca. 2020.
Unit with three lessons on voting rights, including the history of the struggle against voter suppression in the United States.
Lowndes County and the Voting Rights Act
Article. By Hasan Kwame Jeffries.
History and significance of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization.
The Voting Rights Act: Ten Things You Should Know
Article. By Emilye Crosby and Judy Richardson. 2015.
Key points in the history of the 1965 Voting Rights Act missing from most textbooks.
Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot
Film. Produced by Bill Brummel. Learning for Justice. 2015. 40 min.
Documentary about the students and teachers of Selma, Alabama who fought for voting rights.
March 7, 1965: Bloody Sunday
To protest the police murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson and for voting rights, more than 600 people began a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery.
March 11, 1965: Rev. James Reeb Dies in Selma
Rev. James Reeb died as a result of being severely beaten by a group of white men during Bloody Sunday in Selma two days earlier.
March 25, 1965: Last Selma March
The Selma marches were three protest marches about voting rights, held in 1965.
Civil Rights, Voting Rights, and the Selma March
The year 1964 marked a legislative victory for civil rights activists and was a pivotal moment in the political history of African Americans. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law. The Act prohibited the exclusion of blacks from all public facilities and accommodations: restaurants, parks, swimming pools, hotels and theaters. It outlawed the use of federal funds to maintain or support educational institutions that practiced segregation. That same year, the 24th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed. By abolishing the poll tax on voting--a restrictive measure used extensively in the South to deny poor black people the right to vote--an increasing number of blacks were able to vote for the first time, thereby exerting an impact on local and national elections.
With the passage of the legislation and the amendment, civil rights activists shifted their attention to enforcing the voting rights of blacks in the South. White authorities, using all kinds of ruses, frequently refused to register black voters. In 1965, SNCC, Martin Luther King and other SCLC leaders came to Selma to organize marchers and generate national media attention around the local campaign for voting rights. The police in Selma arrested King, with 250 marchers on February 1.
On February 4, a federal judge had ordered the Selma registrar's office to process a minimum of a hundred voter applications a day. Almost immediately registrars created new obstacles for black voters. The SCLC decided to once again organize a march for the right to vote. The plan entailed walking along the highway from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery, 50 miles away. On March 7, 1965, Hosea Williams led the march. Andrew Young, James Bevel, other SCLC organizers, and SNCC leader John Lewis joined Williams. As marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge along the route, the police, armed with shotguns and automatic weapons, confronted the marchers. The Alabama troopers, determined to stop the marchers, pressed forward in readiness to attack. Governor George Wallace had approved the use of force, if necessary, to halt the march. What ensued was a brutal and sickening attack by police with tear gas, billy clubs and night sticks on the unarmed marchers. More than 600 marchers were assaulted and 17 hospitalized on the first day of the march, known as "Bloody Sunday."
Martin Luther King returned to Selma on Tuesday, March 9, to personally lead 1,500 nonviolent marchers and confront the Alabama State troopers on the other side of the bridge. After kneeling to pray and singing the civil rights anthem, "We Shall Overcome," King ordered the marchers to turn back. He believed that the use of force by the police was imminent and that the symbolic point of walking across the bridge had been made. King's decision disappointed, if not angered, SNCC activists, and even some of the SCLC leadership. Later that evening, white racists attacked several white ministers who had participated in the march. A Unitarian minister, clubbed in the head, died of his injuries two days later.
Selma Police arrest peaceful demonstrators.
Source: Alabama Sovereignty Commission, Administrative files, SG13843, folder 8, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery Alabama.
Despite the violence the marchers encountered on two occasions, King and the SCLC courageously planned a third march. After the federal court ruled that Alabama could not prohibit the marches, the march began on March 21. By the time they arrived in Montgomery, the 4,000 who had begun the march in Selma had been joined by more than 25,000 additional marchers. As they reached the state capitol building, which still flew the Confederate battle flag, tens of thousands of marchers celebrated their victory.
The violence in Selma compelled President Johnson to introduce a federal voting-rights bill. In a speech to Congress, Johnson introduced the bill and, using the language of Civil Rights singers, said, "We shall overcome." The Selma-to-Montgomery voting campaign attracted national attention and political support necessary for Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965 (also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1965).
Millions of blacks--who had been denied the right to vote for nearly a century--had finally won a federal guarantee to exercise their right to vote. In his speech, President Johnson affirmed his support for the goals of the civil rights movement, noting: "We will not delay or we will not hesitate, or we will not turn aside until Americans of every race and color and origin in this country have the same rights as all others to share in the progress of democracy."
The Voting Rights Act almost immediately changed the political landscape of the South. In every Southern state, the percentage of black adults, who were newly registered to vote, rose above 60 percent within four years. By 1969, 12,000 black officials were elected to office, with more than one-third of that number from the South.
Prior to European colonization, the left bank of the Alabama River was inhabited by the Alibamu tribe of Native Americans. The Alibamu and the Coushatta who lived on the opposite side the river were adept mound builders.  The first Europeans to come through central Alabama were Hernando de Soto and his expedition, who came through Ikanatchati and camped for one week in Towassa in 1540. It is also likely that Tristán de Luna y Arellano and his colonists traveled through the Montgomery area on their way from Nanipacana to Coosa in northwest Georgia. 
The next recorded European movements in the area happened well over a century later, when an expedition from Carolina went down the Alabama River in 1697. The first permanent European settler in the Montgomery area was James McQueen, a Scottish trader who came to the area in 1716.  In 1717, the French built Fort Toulouse to the northeast of the future Montgomery, serving primarily as a trading post with the Alibamu.  The British gained the former French and Spanish possessions east of the Mississippi River following the French and Indian War in 1764. In 1767, Alabama's area was divided between the Indian Reserve and British West Florida. The boundary line (32° 28′ north latitude) ran just north of present-day Montgomery. The northern portion later became part of the Province and later U.S. State of Georgia. The Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the American Revolutionary War, gave Georgia's territory to the United States. The southern border of the territory was disputed between Spain (who had received West Florida from the British in a separate treaty) and the United States until 1795, when the Treaty of San Lorenzo gave the land north of the 31st parallel to the United States.  This part of West Florida, including the southern half of Montgomery, became part of the Mississippi Territory in 1797. Georgia's western territory was integrated into Mississippi in 1804. 
After McQueen's arrival, European immigration to the area was slow in coming Abraham Mordecai of Pennsylvania arrived in 1785 and later brought the first cotton gin to Alabama.  Following the end of the Creek War in August 1814, the Creek tribes were forced to give the majority of their lands to the U.S., including most of central and southern Alabama. When the hostile faction of Creeks that populated the Alabama River's banks moved south, the area became open for white settlers.  Between 1814 and 1816, Arthur Moore built a cabin near the current location of Union Station. 
In 1816, Montgomery County was formed, and its lands were sold off the next year at the federal land office in Milledgeville, Georgia. The first group of settlers to come to the Montgomery area was headed by General John Scott. The group founded Alabama Town about 2 miles (3 km) downstream from present-day downtown. In June 1818, county courts were moved from Fort Jackson to Alabama Town. Soon after, Andrew Dexter, Jr. founded New Philadelphia, the present-day eastern part of downtown. Dexter envisioned his town would one day grow to prominence he set aside a hilltop known as "Goat Hill" as the future location for the state capitol building. New Philadelphia soon prospered, and Scott and his associates built a new town adjacent, calling it East Alabama Town. The towns became rivals, but merged on December 3, 1819, and were incorporated as the city of Montgomery.  The new city was named for General Richard Montgomery, who died in the American Revolutionary War attempting to capture Quebec City, Canada. Montgomery County had already been named for Major Lemuel P. Montgomery, who fell at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in the Creek War.  A legacy of the towns' merger can be seen today in the alignment of downtown streets: streets to the east of Court Street are aligned in a north–south and east–west grid, while streets to the west are aligned parallel and perpendicular to the Alabama River. 
Due in large part to the cotton trade, the newly united Montgomery grew quickly. In October 1821, the steamboat Harriet began running along the Alabama River to Mobile.  In 1822, the city became the county seat, and a new courthouse was built at the present location of Court Square, at the foot of Market Street (now Dexter Avenue).  In April 1825, Marquis de Lafayette visited Montgomery on his grand tour of the United States.  In 1832, the Montgomery Railroad opened, and grew to reach West Point, Georgia by 1851.  Due in large part to its transportation connections and central location in the state, the legislature decided to move the state capital from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery, on January 28, 1846.  The city paid for the construction of the Capitol building on Goat Hill, the site set aside by Andrew Dexter 29 years earlier. The new building was ready for the 1847-48 legislature session, but on December 14, 1849, the building burned to the ground. It was rebuilt using the same plans and completed in 1851. 
As state capital, Montgomery began to have a great influence over state politics, but would also play a prominent role on the national stage. Montgomery resident William Lowndes Yancey served in both houses of the Alabama State Legislature and in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he became an outspoken supporter of states' rights. He traveled the country spreading his "fire-eater" stance of slavery and secession.  After Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, Yancey led charge for Alabama's secession from the Union, which passed on January 11, 1861.  Beginning February 4, representatives from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina met in Montgomery to form the Confederate States of America. Montgomery was named the first capital of the nation, and Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as president on the steps of the State Capitol. The convention and subsequent Confederate government activities were based at the Exchange Hotel near Court Square. On April 11, the order to fire on Fort Sumter, the act which started the American Civil War, was sent from the Winter Building, which served as the telegraph office.  On May 29, 1861, the capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia, to be closer to the primary areas of battle. As a result, Montgomery remained virtually untouched by conflict during the war. On April 12, 1865, following the Battle of Selma, Major General James H. Wilson captured Montgomery for the Union. 
In 1886 Montgomery became the first city in the United States to install citywide electric street cars along a system that was nicknamed the Lightning Route.  The system made Montgomery one of the first cities to "depopulate" its residential areas at the city center through transportation-facilitated suburban development. Cloverdale and Highland Park saw much of their growth during the height of the Lightning Route. On March 19, 1910, Montgomery became the winter home of the Wright brothers' Wright Flying School. The men frequented Montgomery and founded several airfields, one of which developed into Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base after the Wrights began working with the government to produce planes for military use. 
During the Red Summer of 1919, three African Americans were lynched over a two-day period.
According to University of Alabama historian David Beito, Montgomery "nurtured the modern civil rights movement."  In December 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott. The Montgomery Improvement Association was created by Martin Luther King, Jr., then the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and E.D. Nixon, a lawyer and local civil rights advocate, to organize the boycott. Nixon, along with Fred Gray and Clifford Durr, argued the case of Browder v. Gayle before the U.S. District Court in Montgomery. In June 1956, Judge Frank M. Johnson ruled that Montgomery's bus segregation was illegal. After the Supreme Court upheld the ruling in November, the city desegregated the bus system, and the boycott was ended.  King gained nationwide fame as a result of the Boycott. He remained in Montgomery until 1960, during which time he led the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 
In 1960, inspired by the Greensboro sit-ins, students from Alabama State College organized their own sit-in at the State Capitol's lunch counter to protest segregation. After the involved students were expelled at the insistence of Governor John Malcolm Patterson, thousands of students marched on the capitol.  On May 20, 1961, the Freedom Riders, attempting to test desegregation laws on inter-state buses, arrived in Montgomery. After meeting with violence in Anniston and Birmingham, Governor Patterson pledged to protect the riders during their journey from Birmingham to Montgomery, but Montgomery city police did not continue to protect the riders. They were met by a mob who beat the riders and Justice Department officials who attempted to intervene. Police eventually intervened—and served the riders with injunctions for inciting violence. Days later, more riders departed Montgomery to continue the ride, only to be arrested upon reaching Jackson, Mississippi. 
Martin Luther King would return to Montgomery in 1965. Local civil rights leaders in Selma had been protesting Jim Crow laws blocking Black people from registering to vote. Following the shooting of a man after a civil rights rally, the leaders decided to march to Montgomery to petition Governor George Wallace to allow free voter registration. After meeting with resistance from state troopers, an incident that became known as "Bloody Sunday", Dr. King joined the effort. The march began on March 21, after Judge Frank M. Johnson authorized the march. By March 24, the marchers reached Montgomery, and the group camped and held a rally at the City of St. Jude that night. The next morning, the march reached the Capitol, and King gave a speech, How Long, Not Long, to the crowd of 25,000. 
On February 7, 1967, a devastating fire broke out at Dale's Penthouse, a restaurant and lounge on the top floor of the Walter Bragg Smith apartment building (now Capital Towers) at 7 Clayton Street downtown. The fire started in the cloakroom due to a patron failing to extinguish a tobacco pipe properly before placing it in his coat pocket, and early efforts to extinguish it by the staff failed. Twenty-six people died,  including former Alabama Public Service Commissioner Ed Pepper, who had been indicted earlier that day by a Federal Grand Jury.  (Video account of fire)
Montgomery continues to grow and diversify. In 1985, longtime resident and former Postmaster General Winton Blount donated 250 acres (1 km 2 ) of land for the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. ASF ranks as the fifth largest Shakespearean venue in the world.  1996 saw the construction of Montgomery's first skyscraper, the RSA Tower.  In 2001, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore erected a 5,280-pound (2,395 kg) monument of the Ten Commandments in the Supreme Court building rotunda. The ensuing demonstrations by supporters and opponents alike brought national attention to Montgomery.  In 2005, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama was founded, marking South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Company's first manufacturing plant in the United States.  The city government is active in restoring the downtown area, and in 2007 adopted a master plan, which included revitalization of Court Square and the riverfront. 
In 1963, the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) and organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began voter registration work. When white resistance to African American voter registration proved intractable, the DCVL requested the assistance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), who brought many prominent civil rights and civic leaders to support voting rights.
On February 18, 1965, an Alabama State Trooper, Corporal James Bonard Fowler, shot Jimmie Lee Jackson at point &ndashblank range, as he tried to protect his mother and grandfather in a café to which hey had fled while being attacked by troopers during a nighttime civil rights demonstration in Marion, the county seat of Perry County. Jackson died eight days later, of an infection resulting from the gunshot wound, at Selma&rsquos Good Samaritan. His murder was the catalyst for the movement, the Selma to Montgomery March.
In response, James Bevel called for a march from Selma to Montgomery. At a memorial service for Jackson on Sunday, February 1965, Rev. James Bevel floated his idea at the end of a fiery sermon. His text was from the Book of Esther, where Esther is charged to &ldquogo unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people.&rdquo &rdquoI must go to see the king!&rdquo Bevel shouted, &ldquoWe must go to Montgomery and see the king!&rdquo Several days later Martin Luther King, Jr. confirmed that, a march from Selma to Montgomery would take place. He met with President Lyndon B. Johnson in Washington D. C., on March 5, outlining is views on the proposed voting rights legislation.
The Selma to Montgomery March consisted of three different marches in 1965 that marked the political and emotional peak of the American Civil Rights Movement. These three marches grew out of the voting rights movement in Selma, Alabama, launched by local African Americans who formed the Dallas County Voters League. The first march took place on Sunday, March 7, when 600 civil rights marchers, assembled on Brown Chapel. The mood was somber. This day became known as &ldquoBloody Sunday&rdquo-when the civil rights marchers were attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas. The second march took place on March 9 it was know as &ldquoTurn Around Tuesday.&rdquo Only the third march, which began on March 21 and lasted five days, made it to Montgomery, 51 mile (82km) away.
The marchers averaged 10 miles (16km) a day along U.S. Route 80, known in Alabama today as &ldquoJefferson Davis Highway.&rdquo 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, they arrived in Montgomery on March 24, and at the Alabama Capital building on March 25, 1965.
National and international attention of the march highlighted the struggle, the adversity, the violence as well as the determination of the Selma protestors. As a result of the media coverage worldwide, Congress rushed to enact legislation that would guarantee voting rights for all Americans. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965.
&ldquoBLOODY Sunday&rdquo, 1965
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Bevel and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), in partial collaboration with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), attempted to organize a march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery on March 7, 1965. The first attempt to march on March 7 was aborted because of mob and police violence against the demonstrators. This day has since become known as &ldquoBloody Sunday&rdquo. &ldquoBloody Sunday&rdquo was a major turning point in the effort to gain public support for the Civil Rights Movement, the clearest demonstration up to that time of the dramatic potential of King&rsquos nonviolence strategy. King, however, was not present. After meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson, he decided not to endorse the march, but it was carried out against his wishes and without his presence on March 7 by the director of the Selma Movement, James Bevel, and by local Civil Rights Leaders. King&rsquos next attempt to organize a march was set for March 9, it was known as &ldquoTurn Around Tuesday.&rdquo The SCLC petitioned for an injunction in Federal Court against the State of Alabama this injunction was denied and the judge issued an order blocking the march until after a prayer session, before turning the marchers around and asking them to disperse so as not to violate the court order. The unexpected ending of this second march aroused the surprise and anger of many within the local movement. The march finally went ahead fully on March 25, 1965. At the conclusion of the march and on the steps of the state capitol, King delivered a speech that has become known as &ldquoHow Long, not Long&rdquo.
History: Marches from Selma to Montgomery
This post is a follow-up to my last one that was all about the Selma Campaign. I will share what happened during the 3 marches from Selma to Montgomery during the Civil Rights Movement in America.
March 1: 7th of March 1965
1. 600 protesters
2. Led by John Lewis (SNCC) and Reverend Hosea Williams (SCLC)
3. Alabama State Troopers confronted the marchers near the Edmund Pettus Bridge that stood above the Alabama River.
4. The crowd was ordered to disperse, but they didn’t.
5. The police then attacked them as they crossed the bridge using in order to push them back:
b. Cattle prods
d. Tear gas
6. This was all televised and spread through the media.
7. More than 50 people were injured
8. This day was then called ‘Bloody Sunday’ because of what happened.
March 2: 9th of March 1965
1. Martin Luther King Jr. Called on Americans to join the march once again.
2. The court issued an order forbidding the march.
3. The 1500 protestors were met once again at the bridge by the police
4. Martin Luther King Jr. Decided to turn back which disappointed the younger demonstrators
5. A White minister, James Reeb, was killed that same day by the KKK for participating in the march.
6. Public concern was quickly growing
7. The authorities then ordered that the court order should be lifted and so they did this on the 19th of March
8. The police was then ordered not to intervene in the upcoming march
March 3: 21-24th of March 1965
1. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent state troops to protect the marchers that were beginning a 3 day march along Highway 80
2. This was the full 87km journey from Selma to Montgomery
3. Challenges faced:
c. Sleeping in sleeping bags in fields along the road
4. They reached Montgomery on the 24th of March and by this time the crowd had grown to 25 000
5. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the crowds from the steps of the Capitol Building.
The response to this:
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on the 6th of August 1965 which meant that all people had the equal right to vote, regardless of their race.