Selma to Montgomery March


Selma to Montgomery march in 1965 was part of the Selma Voting Rights Campaign and led to the passage that year of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark federal achievement of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement.

On February 26, activist and Deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson died after being mortally shot several days earlier by a state trooper during a peaceful march in Marion, Alabama.

The community was sorrowed and outraged.

To defuse and refocus the anger, SCLC Director of Direct Action James Bevel, who was directing SCLC’s Selma Campaign called for a march of dramatic length, from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery.

The violence of “Bloody Sunday” and of Reeb’s death led to a national outcry and some acts of civil disobedience, targeting both the Alabama state and federal governments.

The protesters demanded protection for the Selma marchers and a new federal voting rights law to enable African Americans to register and vote without harassment.

President Lyndon Johnson, whose administration had been working on a voting rights law, held a televised joint session of Congress on March 15 to ask for the bill’s introduction and passage.

In early 1963, SNCC organizers Colia and Bernard 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 college 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 at the county courthouse to register as voters, they were immediately fired by the all-white school board.

On the 2nd of January 1965 King and SCLC joined the SNCC, the Dallas County Voters League, and other local African American activists in a voting rights campaign in Selma where, in spite of repeated registration attempts by local blacks, only two percent were on the voting rolls.

SCLC had chosen to focus its efforts in Selma because they anticipated that the notorious brutality of local law enforcement under Sheriff Jim Clark would attract national attention and pressure President Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress to enact new national voting rights legislation.

On the night of the 18th of February, Alabama state troopers joined local police breaking up an evening march in Marion.

On the 15th of March Johnson addressed the Congress, identifying himself with the demonstrators in Selma in a televised address: ‘‘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’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Special Message’’). The following day Selma demonstrators submitted a detailed march plan to federal Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., who approved the demonstration and enjoined Governor Wallace and local law enforcement from harassing or threatening marchers.

On the 17th of March President Johnson submitted voting rights legislation to Congress.

The Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights ended three weeks–and three events–that represented the political and emotional peak of the modern civil rights movement.