From the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute -- The Alabama Voting Rights Project (AVRP), centered on Selma, Alabama and Dallas County, was a major campaign to secure effective federal protection of voting rights. That protection had been compromised out of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Three of Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) main organizers-Director of Direct Action and Nonviolent Education James Bevel, Diane Nash, and James Orange had been working with AVRP since late 1963.
In 1963, the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) and organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began voter registration work. When white resistance to African American voter registration proved intractable, the DCVL requested the assistance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), who brought many prominent civil rights and civic leaders to support voting rights.
On February 18, 1965, an Alabama State Trooper, Corporal James Bonard Fowler, shot Jimmie Lee Jackson at point –blank range, as he tried to protect his mother and grandfather in a café to which hey had fled while being attacked by troopers during a nighttime civil rights demonstration in Marion, the county seat of Perry County. Jackson died eight days later, of an infection resulting from the gunshot wound, at Selma’s Good Samaritan. His murder was the catalyst for the movement, the Selma to Montgomery March.
In response, James Bevel called for a march from Selma to Montgomery. At a memorial service for Jackson on Sunday, February 1965, Rev. James Bevel floated his idea at the end of a fiery sermon. His text was from the Book of Esther, where Esther is charged to “go unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people.” ”I must go to see the king!” Bevel shouted, “We must go to Montgomery and see the king!” Several days later Martin Luther King, Jr. confirmed that, a march from Selma to Montgomery would take place. He met with President Lyndon B. Johnson in Washington D. C., on March 5, outlining is views on the proposed voting rights legislation.
The Selma to Montgomery March consisted of three different marches in 1965 that marked the political and emotional peak of the American Civil Rights Movement. These three marches grew out of the voting rights movement in Selma, Alabama, launched by local African Americans who formed the Dallas County Voters League. The first march took place on Sunday, March 7, when 600 civil rights marchers, assembled on Brown Chapel. The mood was somber. This day became known as “Bloody Sunday”-when the civil rights marchers were attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas. The second march took place on March 9; it was know as “Turn Around Tuesday.” Only the third march, which began on March 21 and lasted five days, made it to Montgomery, 51 mile (82km) away.
The marchers averaged 10 miles (16km) a day along U.S. Route 80, known in Alabama today as “Jefferson Davis Highway.” Protected by 2, 000 soldiers of the U.S. Army, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and many FBI agents and Federal Marshals, they arrived in Montgomery on March 24, and at the Alabama Capital building on March 25, 1965.
National and international attention of the march highlighted the struggle, the adversity, the violence as well as the determination of the Selma protestors. As a result of the media coverage worldwide, Congress rushed to enact legislation that would guarantee voting rights for all Americans. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965.
“BLOODY Sunday”, 1965
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Bevel and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), in partial collaboration with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), attempted to organize a march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery on March 7, 1965. The first attempt to march on March 7 was aborted because of mob and police violence against the demonstrators. This day has since become known as “Bloody Sunday”. “Bloody Sunday” was a major turning point in the effort to gain public support for the Civil Rights Movement, the clearest demonstration up to that time of the dramatic potential of King’s nonviolence strategy. King, however, was not present. After meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson, he decided not to endorse the march, but it was carried out against his wishes and without his presence on March 7 by the director of the Selma Movement, James Bevel, and by local Civil Rights Leaders. King’s next attempt to organize a march was set for March 9, it was known as “Turn Around Tuesday.” The SCLC petitioned for an injunction in Federal Court against the State of Alabama; this injunction was denied and the judge issued an order blocking the march until after a prayer session, before turning the marchers around and asking them to disperse so as not to violate the court order. The unexpected ending of this second march aroused the surprise and anger of many within the local movement. The march finally went ahead fully on March 25, 1965. At the conclusion of the march and on the steps of the state capitol, King delivered a speech that has become known as “How Long, not Long”. (source: National Voting Rights Museum and Institute)