The Big Ten - Crucial Events in the Modern Civil Rights Movement - Selma March for Voting Rights - 1965

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"Selma March for Voting Rights", Two young men march for the right to vote. , National Archives & Records Administration, Public Domain.

While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was groundbreaking legislation, it did nothing to ensure that blacks in the south could vote.  A number of devices, some dating back to the era of Reconstruction, prevented blacks from exercising the franchise. 

Civil rights workers had been Alabama for several years developing strategies to dramatize the lack of voting rights.  On February 18, 1965, a young black man named Jimmie Lee Jackson was trying to prevent his grandmother from being beaten by law enforcement officials, and was shot point blank by a sheriff; he died several days later.  The black community was seething with anger and even proponents of non-violent direction action worried if they could keep the peace. Several workers came up with the idea of a voting right march from Selma to the capitol in Montgomery to dramatize the lack of voting rights and spotlight the violence blacks often endured when they tried to vote.

On Sunday March 7 more than 500 demonstrators started down U. S. Highway 80 on the first leg of the trip.  When they had crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge they were met by a phalanx of law enforcement officials who demanded that they disperse.  Within a few seconds, police officers, sheriffs and volunteers who had been deputized charged into the crowd, beating demonstrators with clubs, shocking them with cattle prods and spraying tear gas. 

The melee was captured by journalists and television networks interrupted their regularly scheduled programs to show footage of the march.  What came to be called Bloody Sunday shocked the nation and the world.  President Johnson immediately condemned the violence and promised to send a civil rights bill to Congress.

Original Release: May 28, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

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"Selma March for Voting Rights - 1965" AwesomeStories.com. May 28, 2015. Jan 20, 2020.
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