1965 Selma to Montgomery March Highlights

CNN Editorial Research

Here’s a look at the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama.

Facts

Throughout March 1965, a group of protesters faced violence as they attempted to march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama to demand the right to vote for blacks.

One of the pivotal days was March 7, when 17 people were hospitalized and dozens more injured by police, including future Congressman John Lewis who suffered a fractured skull. Since then, March 7 has been known as “Bloody Sunday”.

The march has been repeated several times on the occasion of his birthday. In 2015, President Barack Obama marked the 50th anniversary of the march by delivering a speech at the base of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

It is approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Selma to Montgomery.

Chronology

February 1965 – Marches and protests against voter registration prompt Alabama Governor George C. Wallace to ban nighttime protests in Selma and Marion, Alabama.

February 18, 1965 – During a march in Marion, gendarmes attack the demonstrators. State Trooper James Bonard Fowler shoots and kills Jimmie Lee Jackson. Fowler was charged with murder in 2007 and pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2010.

March 7, 1965 – About 600 people begin a march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama, led by Lewis and Hosea Williams. Protesters demand an end to discrimination in voter registration. At the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state and local lawmen attack the marchers with clubs and tear gas, pushing them back to Selma.

Read more: Priest Selma remembers Bloody Sunday.

March 9, 1965 – Martin Luther King Jr. leads another march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The march is largely symbolic; as previously predicted, the crowd turns back in front of a barricade of state troopers. Demonstrations are taking place in cities across the United States to show solidarity with the Selma marchers.

March 9, 1965 – President Lyndon Johnson denounces the violence in Selma and urges both parties to obey the law.

March 9, 1965 – Unitarian Universalist minister James Reeb, in Selma to join the marchers, is attacked by a group of white men and beaten. He died of his injuries two days later.

March 10, 1965 – The US Department of Justice is suing in Montgomery, Alabama, seeking an order to stop the state from punishing anyone involved in a civil rights protest.

March 17, 1965 – Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. rules in favor of the marchers. “The law clearly states that the right to ask one’s government to redress grievances can be exercised in large groups.”

March 18, 1965 – Governor Wallace appears before the state legislature to condemn Johnson’s decision. He states that Alabama cannot provide the necessary security measures, blames the federal government, and says he will ask the federal government for help.

March 19, 1965 – Wallace sends a telegram to President Johnson asking for help, saying the state doesn’t have enough troops and can’t bear the financial burden of calling in the Alabama National Guard.

March 20, 1965 – President Johnson issues an executive order federalizing the Alabama National Guard and authorizing any federal forces the Secretary of Defense deems necessary.

March 21, 1965 – About 3,200 people leave Selma for Montgomery under the protection of federal troops. They walk about 20 km a day and sleep in the fields at night.

March 25, 1965 – Walkers reach the state capital at Montgomery. The number of walkers increases to around 25,000.

August 6, 1965 – President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

June 4, 2015 – After a state resolution to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge is not implemented, Lewis and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Alabama) publish an article in the Selma Times-Journal in favor of keeping the name. “Keeping the name of the bridge is not an endorsement of the man who bears his name, but rather an acknowledgment that the name of the bridge today is synonymous with the voting rights movement that changed the face of this nation and of the world.”

February 24, 2016 – The marchers are awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’s highest civilian honor.

June 3, 2021 – The National Trust for Historic Preservation includes campsites used by walkers in its annual list of the most endangered historic places in the United States.

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