On March 7, 1965, state troopers viciously attacked non-violent civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama. Look back at the events of “Bloody Sunday” that shaken millions of Americans and galvanized Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Almost a century after the Confederacy’s guns fell silent, the racial legacies of slavery and Reconstruction still reverberated loudly throughout Alabama in 1965. Even the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 months earlier had done little to the discrimination against African Americans. This made it difficult for them to register to vote, although it now was a basic right. There was possibly no place where Jim Crow’s gripped tighter than in Dallas County, where African Americans made up more than half of the population. Interestingly, they were accounted for only 2 percent of registered voters.
John Lewis stand on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alamaba, almost 50 years after the brutal events of “Bloody Sunday”
It started as a peaceful demonstration outside the courthouse in Selma, Alabama, but resulted in the arrest of thousands. In a letter written to The New York Times in February 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “There are more negroes in jail with me than there are on the voting rolls”. The racial tention increased when state troopers shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-ols demonstrator who tried to protect his mother as she was being struck by the police. In response, the civil rights leaders, such as King and Lewis, planned to take their cause directly to the Alabama Gouvernor on a 54-mile march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. Even though Gouvernor Wallace ordered the state troopers “to use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march,” 600 marchers startet to walk towards Montgomery. The voting rights advocates walked undisturbed though Selma, but as they becan to cross the bridge which connected Selma to Montgomery, they met trouble. A wall of state troopers stood ready to attack, with the Confederate general and reputed grand dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, Edmund Pettus, in front. They knocked the marchers to the ground since the protestors did not fight back.
From Bloody Sunday
Martin Luther King Jr. leads the protersters through another march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but this time people from all around America came to participate. In contrast to the first march, there was no attack; the crowd turned back at the barricade of state troopers.
August 6. 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Without the events in Selma, African Americans wouldn’t be a part of the American democracy. This march is so significance in American history that it has been reenacted many times on it’s anniversary. On the 50th anniversery of the march former President Barack Obama joined thousants of Americans in Selma. This was very special as Obama would possibly wouldn’t have been elected President if it wasn’t for these events.
Nevertheless, even with the success, great challenges still remain. That is why the legacy of Selma must not be viewed in the vacuum of history, but rather as an inspiration for our future. As President Obama put it on the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”:
“[Selma] is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents: ‘We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.’ ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” Souce The White House