The First March From Selma
When about 600 people started a planned march
from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on Sunday March 7, 1965, it
was called a demonstration. When state troopers met the
demonstrators at the edge of the city by the Edmund Pettus
Bridge, that day became known as "Bloody Sunday." Why were
the people marching?
One hundred years after the end of
the Civil War, many African Americans were still facing barriers
which either prevented or made it very difficult for them to
register to vote. In Selma, African Americans made up almost
half the population, but only two percent were registered
voters. Discrimination and intimidation tactics aimed at blacks
kept them from registering and voting. The demonstrators marched
to demand fairness in voter registration.
John Lewis was
a key organizer of the march. The 25-year-old son of an Alabama
sharecropper was the leader of the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization dedicated to
ending segregation and to registering black voters. The movement
practiced non-violence. Lewis and other leaders asked the
demonstrators not to fight back against anyone who committed
violence against them during the peaceful protest. What did the
demonstrators do when the heavily armed state troopers
The marchers paused for a moment, then
kept walking. The sheriff warned the people that they had two
minutes to break up the march, but the deputies attacked sooner.
The demonstrators were tear-gassed, clubbed, spat on, whipped,
trampled by horses, and jeered by others for demanding the right
to register to vote. Television and newspapers carried pictures
of the event that became known as "Bloody Sunday."
images sickened, outraged, and electrified people throughout the
country. Within 48 hours, demonstrations in support of the
marchers were held in 80 cities. Many of the nation's religious
and lay leaders, including Martin Luther King, flew to Selma.
After one more failed attempt, King led a peaceful march from
Selma to Montgomery. Congress responded to these events by
enacting the Voting Rights Act of 1965.