Selma to Montgomery marches
|Selma to Montgomery marches|
|Part of Civil Rights Movement|
Alabama state troopers attack civil-rights demonstrators outside Selma, Alabama, on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965
|Date||March 7, 1965 – March 25, 1965|
|Location||Edmund Pettus Bridge, U.S. Route 80, Alabama State Capitol, Selma and Montgomery, Alabama|
|Causes||Rev. James Reeb|
|Methods||Strikes, Protest, Protest march|
|Result||Voting Rights Act of 1965|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The Selma to Montgomery marches, also known as Bloody Sunday and the two marches that followed, were marches and protests held in 1965 that marked the political and emotional peak of the American civil rights movement. All three were attempts to march from Selma to Montgomery where the Alabama capitol is located. The marches grew out of the voting rights movement in Selma, launched by local African-Americans who formed the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL). In 1963, the DCVL and organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began voter-registration work. When white resistance to black voter registration proved intractable, the DCVL requested the assistance of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who brought many prominent civil rights and civic leaders to support voting rights.
The first march took place on March 7, 1965 — "Bloody Sunday" — when 600 marchers, protesting the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson and ongoing exclusion from the electoral process, were attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas. The second march took place March 9; police forced 2,500 protesters to turn around after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
The third march started March 16. 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.
The route is memorialized as the Selma To Montgomery Voting Rights Trail, and is a U.S. National Historic Trail.
- 1 Fight for the vote: 1963–64
- 2 Selma Voting Rights Movement
- 3 The first Selma-to-Montgomery March: "Bloody Sunday"
- 4 Second march: "Turnaround Tuesday"
- 5 The march to Montgomery
- 6 Historical impact
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Fight for the vote: 1963–64
Selma is the county seat and major town of Dallas County, Alabama. In 1961, the population of Dallas County was 57% black, but of the 15,000 blacks old enough to vote, only 130 were registered (fewer than 1%). At that time, more than 80% of Dallas County blacks lived below the poverty line, most of them working as sharecroppers, farm hands, maids, janitors, and day-laborers.
Led by the Boynton family (Amelia, Sam, and son Bruce), Rev. L.L. Anderson, J.L. Chestnut, and Marie Foster, the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) attempted to register black citizens during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Their efforts were blocked by state and local officials, the White Citizens' Council, and the Ku Klux Klan. The methods included a literacy test, economic pressure, and violence.
In early 1963, SNCC organizers Bernard and Colia Lafayette arrived in Selma to begin a voter-registration project in cooperation with the DCVL. In mid-June, Bernard was beaten and almost killed by Klansmen determined to prevent blacks from voting. When the Lafayettes returned to school in the fall, SNCC organizers Prathia Hall and Worth Long carried on the work despite arrests, beatings, and death threats. When 32 black school teachers applied to register as voters, they were immediately fired by the all-white school board. After the Birmingham church bombing on September 15, black students in Selma began sit-ins at local lunch counters where they were attacked and arrested. More than 300 were arrested in two weeks of protests, including SNCC Chairman John Lewis.
October 7, 1963, was one of the two days per month that citizens were allowed to go to the courthouse to apply to register to vote. SNCC and the DCVL mobilized over 300 Dallas County blacks to line up at the voter registration office in what was called a "Freedom Day". Supporting them were author James Baldwin and his brother David, and comedian Dick Gregory and his wife Lillian (who was arrested for picketing with SNCC activists and local supporters). SNCC members who tried to bring water to the blacks waiting on line were arrested, as were those who held signs saying "Register to Vote." After waiting all day in the hot sun, only a handful of the hundreds in the line were allowed to fill out the voter application, and most of the applications were denied.
On July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, declaring segregation illegal, though Jim Crow laws remained in effect. When attempts to integrate Selma's dining and entertainment venues were resumed, blacks who tried to attend the movie theater and eat at the hamburger stand were beaten and arrested.
On July 6, John Lewis led 50 blacks to the courthouse on registration day, but Sheriff Clark arrested them rather than allow them to apply to vote. On July 9, Judge James Hare issued an injunction forbidding any gathering of three or more people under the sponsorship of civil rights organizations or leaders. This injunction made it illegal to even talk to more than two people at a time about civil rights or voter registration in Selma, suppressing public civil rights activity there for the next six fateful months.
Selma Voting Rights Movement
With civil rights activity blocked by Judge Hare's injunction, the DCVL requested the assistance of King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Three of SCLC's main organizers – SCLC's Director of Direct Action and Director of Nonviolent Education James Bevel, Diane Nash, and James Orange – had been working on Bevel's Alabama Voting Rights Project since late 1963, a project which King and the executive board of SCLC had not joined.
When SCLC officially accepted the invitation from the local activist group the "Courageous 8" (Ulysses S. Blackmon, Sr., Amelia Boynton, Ernest Doyle, Marie Foster, James Gildersleeve, J.D. Hunter, Sr., Dr. F.D. Reese, Sr., and Henry Shannon, Sr.) to bring their organization to Selma, Bevel, Nash, Orange, and others in SCLC began working in Selma in December 1964. They also worked in the surrounding counties along with the SNCC staff who had been active there since early 1963.
The Selma Voting Rights Movement officially started on January 2, 1965, when King addressed a mass meeting in Brown Chapel in defiance of the anti-meeting injunction.
Over the following weeks, SCLC and SNCC activists expanded voter registration drives and protests in Selma and the adjacent Black Belt counties. In addition to Selma, marches and other protests in support of voting rights were held in Perry, Wilcox, Marengo, Greene, and Hale counties.
The first Selma-to-Montgomery March: "Bloody Sunday"
Jimmie Lee Jackson's death
On February 18, 1965, C. T. Vivian led a march to the courthouse in Marion, the county seat of Perry County, to protest the arrest of James Orange. State officials had received orders to target Vivian specifically, and so a line of Alabama state troopers waited for the marchers at the Perry County courthouse. All of the street lights in the location were turned off, and state troopers rushed at the protesters attacking them. One of the protesters with Vivian, Jimmie Lee Jackson, fled the scene with his mother to hide in a nearby café. Alabama State Trooper corporal James Bonard Fowler followed Jackson into the café and shot him as he tried to protect his mother. Jackson died eight days later of an infection resulting from the gunshot wound at Selma's Good Samaritan Hospital. Jackson was the only male wage-earner of his household, which lived in extreme poverty. Jackson's father, wife, and children were left with no source of income.
On May 10, 2007, 42 years after the homicide, Fowler was charged with first degree and second degree murder for the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson and subsequently surrendered to authorities. Fowler pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree manslaughter on November 15, 2010. Mr. Fowler apologized for the shooting but insisted that he had acted in self-defense, believing that Mr. Jackson was trying to grab his gun. Fowler was sentenced to six months in prison.
Initiation and goals of the march
James Bevel, who was directing the Selma Voting Rights Movement for SCLC, called for a march from Selma to Montgomery to talk to Governor George Wallace directly about Jackson's death, and to ask if he had ordered the State Troopers to turn off the lights and attack the marchers in the incident. Bevel called the march in order to focus the anger and pain of the people of Selma, some of whom wanted to address Jackson's death with violence, towards a nonviolent goal. The marchers also hoped to bring attention to the violations of their Constitutional Rights by marching to Montgomery. Dr. King agreed with Bevel's plan, and asked for a march from Selma to Montgomery to ask Governor Wallace to protect black registrants.
Wallace denounced the march as a threat to public safety and declared he would take all measures necessary to prevent this from happening.
"Bloody Sunday" events
On March 7, 1965, an estimated 525 to 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Highway 80. The march was led by John Lewis of SNCC and the Reverend Hosea Williams of SCLC, followed by Bob Mants of SNCC and Albert Turner of SCLC. The protest went according to plan until the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they found a wall of state troopers waiting for them on the other side.
Sheriff Jim Clark had issued an order for all white males in Dallas County over the age of twenty-one to report to the courthouse that morning to be deputized. Commanding officer John Cloud told the demonstrators to disband at once and go home. Williams tried to speak to the officer, but Cloud curtly informed him there was nothing to discuss. Seconds later, the troopers began shoving the demonstrators. Many were knocked to the ground and beaten with nightsticks. Another detachment of troopers fired tear gas, and mounted troopers charged the crowd on horseback.
Televised images of the brutal attack presented people with horrifying images of marchers left bloodied and severely injured, and roused support for the Selma Voting Rights Movement. Amelia Boynton was beaten and gassed nearly to death; her photo appeared on the front page of newspapers and news magazines around the world. Overall, seventeen marchers were hospitalized, and the day was nicknamed "Bloody Sunday".
Second march: "Turnaround Tuesday"
Immediately after "Bloody Sunday," Bevel, Nash, King and others began organizing a second march to be held on Tuesday, March 9, 1965. They issued a call for clergy and citizens from across the country to join them. Awakened to issues of civil and voting rights by years of Civil Rights struggles, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to Freedom Summer, and shocked by the television images of "Bloody Sunday," hundreds of people responded to SCLC's call.
To prevent another outbreak of violence, SCLC attempted to gain a court order that would prohibit the police from interfering. Instead of issuing the court order, Federal District Court Judge Frank Minis Johnson issued a restraining order, preventing the march from taking place until he could hold additional hearings later in the week.
Based on past experience, SCLC was confident that Judge Johnson would eventually lift the restraining order and they did not want to alienate one of the few southern judges who was often sympathetic to their cause by violating his injunction. There was also insufficient infrastructure in place to support a long march, one for which the marchers were ill-equipped. Further, a person who violates a court order may be punished for contempt even if the order is later reversed. But movement supporters, both local and from around the country, were determined to march on Tuesday to protest the "Bloody Sunday" violence and the systematic denial of black voting rights in Alabama. To balance these conflicting imperatives, SCLC decided to hold a partial "ceremonial" march that would cross over the bridge but halt when ordered to do so in compliance with the injunction.
On March 9, a day that would become known as "Turnaround Tuesday", Dr. King led about 2,500 marchers out to the Edmund Pettus Bridge and held a short prayer session before turning the marchers back around, thereby obeying the court order preventing them from marching all the way to Montgomery. But only the SCLC leaders were told of this plan in advance, causing confusion and consternation among many marchers, including those who had traveled long distances to participate and put their bodies on the line in nonviolent opposition to police brutality. King asked them to remain in Selma for another attempt at the march once the injunction was lifted.
That evening, three white ministers who had come for the march were attacked by four members of the Ku Klux Klan and beaten with clubs. The worst injured was James Reeb, a white Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston. Selma's public hospital refused to treat Rev. Reeb, who had to be taken to Birmingham's University Hospital, two hours away. Reeb died on Thursday, March 11 at University Hospital with his wife by his side.
Response to the second march
Blacks in Dallas County and the Black Belt mourned the death of Reverend Reeb as they had earlier mourned the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson. But many activists were bitter that the media and national political leaders expressed great concern over Reeb's murder, but had paid scant attention to the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson. SNCC spokesman Stokely Carmichael was reported as saying "What you want is the nation to be upset when anybody is killed... but it almost [seems that] for this to be recognized, a white person must be killed."
The march to Montgomery
A week after Reeb's death, on Wednesday March 17, Judge Johnson ruled in favor of the protestors, saying their First Amendment right to march in protest could not be abridged by the state of Alabama:
The law is clear that the right to petition one's government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups . . . . These rights may . . . be exercised by marching, even along public highways.
On Sunday, March 21, close to 8,000 people assembled at Brown Chapel to commence the trek to Montgomery. Most of the participants were black, but some were white and some were Asian and Latino. Spiritual leaders of multiple races, religions, and creeds marched abreast with Dr. King, including Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel and Maurice Davis, and at least one nun, all of whom were depicted in a famous photo.
In 1965, the road to Montgomery was four lanes wide going east from Selma, then narrowed to two lanes through Lowndes County, and then widened to four lanes again at Montgomery county border. Under the terms of Judge Johnson's order, the march was limited to no more than 300 participants for the two days they were on the two-lane portion of Highway-80, so at the end of the first day most of the marchers returned to Selma by bus and car, leaving 300 to camp overnight and take up the journey the next day.
On March 22 and 23, 300 protesters marched through chilling rain across Lowndes county, camping at three sites in muddy fields. At the time of the march, the population of Lowndes County was 81% black and 19% white, but not a single black was registered to vote. At the same time there were 2,240 whites registered to vote in Lowndes County, a figure that represented 118% of the adult white population (in many southern counties of that era it was common practice to retain white voters on the rolls after they died or moved away).
On the morning of the 24th, the march crossed into Montgomery County and the highway widened again to four lanes. All day as the march approached the city, additional marchers were ferried by bus and car to join the line. By evening, several thousand marchers had reached the final campsite at the City of St. Jude, a complex on the outskirts of Montgomery.
That night on a makeshift stage, a "Stars for Freedom" rally was held, with singers Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Peter, Paul and Mary, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joan Baez and Nina Simone all performing.
On Thursday, March 25, 25,000 people marched from St. Jude to the steps of the State Capitol Building where King delivered the speech "How Long, Not Long." "The end we seek," King told the crowd, "is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. ... I know you are asking today, How long will it take? I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long." After delivering the speech, King and the marchers approached the entrance to the capitol with a petition for Governor Wallace. A line of state troopers blocked the door. One of them announced that the governor wasn't in. Undeterred, the marchers remained at the entrance until one of Wallace's secretaries appeared and took the petition.
Later that night, Viola Liuzzo, a white mother of five from Detroit who had come to Alabama to support voting rights for blacks, was assassinated by Ku Klux Klan members while she was ferrying marchers back to Selma from Montgomery. Among the Klansmen in the car from which the shots were fired was FBI informant Gary Rowe. Afterward, the FBI's COINTELPRO operation spread false rumors that Liuzzo was a member of the Communist Party and abandoned her children to have sexual relationships with African Americans involved in the civil rights movement.
Response to the third march
The third march spread the marchers' message without harassment by police and segregation supporters. These factors, along with more widespread support from other civil rights organizations in the area, made the march an overall success and gave the demonstration greater impact.
U.S. Representative William Louis Dickinson made two speeches to Congress on March 30 and April 27 seeking to slander the movement by making spurious charges of alcohol abuse, bribery, and widespread sexual debauchery at the marches. Religious leaders present at the marches denied the charges, and local and national journalists were unable to substantiate his accounts. The allegations of segregation supporters were collected in Robert M. Mikell's pro-segregationist book Selma (Charlotte, 1965).
During 1965, Martin Luther King was promoting an economic boycott of Alabama products to put pressure on the State to integrate schools and employment. Despite King's urgings, Hammermill paper company announced the opening of a major plant in Selma Alabama during the height of violence in Selma. On February 4, 1965, the Company announced construction of a $35 million plant, allegedly touting the "fine reports the company had received about the character of the community and its people."  On March 26, 1965, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee called for a national boycott of Hammermill paper products, until the company reversed what SNCC described as racist policies. King's organization, SCLC joined in support of the boycott. Ultimately, in cooperation with SCLC, student members of Oberlin College Action for Civil Rights, joined with King's group SCLC to conduct picketing and a sit-in at Hammermill's Erie Pennsylvania headquarters. The company responded by calling a meeting of the corporate leadership of Hammermill, SCLC's C.T. Vivian, and Oberlin student leadership, and the meeting led to the signing of an agreement by Hammermill to support integration in Alabama. 
The marches shifted public opinion about the Civil Rights movement. The images of Alabama law enforcement beating the nonviolent protesters were shown all over the country and the world by television networks and newspapers. The visuals of such brutality being carried out by the state of Alabama helped shift the image of the segregationist movement from one of a movement trying to preserve the social order of the South to a system of state-endorsed terrorism against non-whites.
The marches also had a powerful effect in Washington. After witnessing TV coverage of "Bloody Sunday," President Lyndon Baines Johnson met with Governor George Wallace in Washington to discuss with him the civil rights situation in his state. He tried to persuade Wallace to stop the state harassment of the protesters. Two nights later, on March 15, 1965, Johnson presented a bill to a joint session of Congress. The bill itself would later pass and become the Voting Rights Act. Johnson's speech in front of Congress was considered to be a watershed moment for the civil rights movement.
Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.:278
Many in the Civil Rights movement cheered the speech and were emotionally moved that after so long, and so hard a struggle, a President was finally willing to defend voting rights for blacks. According to SCLC activist C.T. Vivian, who was with King when the speech was broadcast,
...I looked over... and Martin was very quietly sitting in the chair, and a tear ran down his cheek. It was a victory like none other. It was an affirmation of the movement.
The bill became law at an August 6 ceremony attended by Amelia Boynton and many other civil rights leaders and activists. This act prohibited most of the unfair practices used to prevent blacks from registering to vote, and provided for federal registrars to go to Alabama and other states with a history of voting-related discrimination to ensure that the law was implemented.
In Selma, where more than 7,000 blacks were added to the voting rolls after passage of the Act, Sheriff Jim Clark was voted out of office in 1966 (he later served a prison sentence for drug smuggling).
In 1960, there were just 53,336 black voters in the state of Alabama; three decades later, there were 537,285, a tenfold increase.
- James Karales (major photographer of the march)
- James "Spider" Martin ("Bloody Sunday" photographer)
- Suffrage Hikes
- Davis, Townsend (1998). Weary Feet, Rested Souls. W.W. Norton.
- Selma — Cracking the Wall of Fear ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- Are You "Qualified" to Vote? The Alabama "Literacy Test" ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- Freedom Day in Selma ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- Zinn, Howard (1965). SNCC The New Abolitionists. Beacon Press.
- The Selma Injunction ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans.
- "James L. Bevel The Strategist of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement" by Randall Kryn, a paper in David Garrow's 1989 book We Shall Overcome, Volume II, Carlson Publishing Company
- "Movement Revision Research Summary Regarding James Bevel" by Randy Kryn, October 2005 published by Middlebury College
- Halberstam, David. The Children, Random House, 1998, p. 502.
- Fleming, John (March 6, 2005). "The Death of Jimmie Lee Jackson". The Anniston Star.
- Kryn in Garrow, 1989
- Kryn, 2005
- National Park Service
- "The wire photo of her left for dead on Edmund Pettus Bridge, which went around the world on the news that night, helped spark the outpouring of support for the civil rights movement..."
- See Walker v. City of Birmingham, 388 U.S. 307 1967, citing Howat v. Kansas, 258 U.S. 181 (1922).
- "Martin Luther King and the Global Freedom Struggle". Stanford University: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
- The March to Montgomery ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- Williams v. Wallace, 240 F. Supp. 100, 106 (M.D. Ala. 1960).
- Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail – National Park Service
- Cobb, Charles E. (2008). On the Road to Freedom. Algonquin Books.
- Tankersley, Mike (March 25, 2012). "City of St. Jude is just wild about Harry". Montgomery Advertiser. Retrieved June 11, 2013.
- Selma to Montgomery March – King Research & Education Center at Stanford University
- Mary Stanton, FROM SELMA TO SORROW: The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo, University of Georgia Press, 2000
- Mikkel's book was published with a colorized photograph showing splotches of blood drawn in on Viola Liuzzo's car. See Jane Dailey. "Sex, Segregation, and the Sacred after Brown". The Journal of American History 91.1.
- Fredrick, Stand Up for Alabama, page 126
- Selma to be Southern Operations Base
- Student Voice
- Jet, May 27, 1965.
- The Activist Consensus
- The Best Known Name in Paper, Hammermill
- Weinstein, Allen (2002). The Story of America: Freedom and Crisis from Settlement to Superpower. DK Publishing, Inc.
- Williams, Juan (2002). Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. Penguin Books. ISBN 0140096531.
- Wicker, Tom (15 March 1965). "Johnson Urges Congress at Joint Session to Pass Law Insuring Negro Vote". New York Times. Retrieved 3 August 2013.
- Rawls, Phillip (June 6, 2007). "Ala. Ex-Sheriff Dies; Civil Rights Foe". The Washington Post. Associated Press.
- Selma-to-Montgomery 1965 Voting Rights March – Alabama Department of Archives & History
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Selma to Montgomery marches.|
- Brotherhood Postponed Sermon by Rabbi Maurice Davis recapping the events of the third march to Montgomery
- Tullos, Allen. "Selma Bridge: Always Under Construction," Southern Spaces July 28, 2008.
- Selma & the March to Montgomery ~ A Discussion by Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- Images of Selma and the March to Montgomery ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- Selma & the March to Montgomery ~ A Discussion by Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- The Selma March Remembered ~ An account by someone who was there.
- Bloody Sunday and Beyond
- Police attack Alabama marchers by BBC News
- Alabama Department of Archives & History
- All American Road – pictures and story of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail
- Securing the Right to Vote: The Selma-to-Montgomery Story
- ”The Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March: Shaking the Conscience of the Nation” a National Park Service lesson plan
- Selma to Montgomery March article, Encyclopedia of Alabama
- Praying with their Feet: Remembering Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King
- Thousands Mark Anniversary of 1965 Selma-Montgomery March – video by Democracy Now!
- FBI files on the March, hosted at the Internet Archive