Fifty years ago today, ‘Bloody Sunday’ occurred. March 7th, 1965 is one of black history’s greatest infamies. It is also one of Phi Beta Sigma’s greatest infamies since it was one of the most profound days for our noble Brother, Congressman John Lewis.
The three Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 were part of the Selma Voting Rights Movement and led to the passage that year of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark federal achievement of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. Activists publicized the three protest marches to walk the 54-mile highway from Selma to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery as showing the desire of black American citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote, in defiance of segregationist repression.
The first march took place on March 7, 1965. The African American group known as The Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) had launched a voters registration campaign in Selma in 1963. Joined by organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), they began working that year in a renewed effort to register black voters. Finding resistance by white officials to be intractable, even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation, the DCVL invited Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the activists of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to join them. SCLC brought many prominent civil rights and civic leaders to Selma. Organizers such as James Bevel, the SCLC Director of Direct Action, Amelia Boynton, John Lewis, Hosea Williams, Bob Mants, and Rosa Parks were some of the activists who participated. The march gained the nickname “Bloody Sunday” after its 600 marchers were attacked at the Edmund Pettus Bridge after leaving Selma; state troopers and county posse attacked the unarmed marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. Law enforcement beat Boynton unconscious; media publicized a picture of her lying wounded on the bridge worldwide.
The second march took place March 9. Troopers, police, and marchers confronted each other, but when the troopers stepped aside to let them pass, King led the marchers back to the church. He was seeking protection by a federal court for the march. That night, a white group beat and murdered civil rights activist James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston, who had come to Selma to march in the second march. Many other clergy and sympathizers from across the country also attended the second march.
The third march started March 21. 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, the marchers averaged 10 miles (16 km) a day along U.S. Route 80, known in Alabama as the “Jefferson Davis Highway”. The marchers arrived in Montgomery on March 24 and at the Alabama State Capitol on March 25. With thousands having joined the campaign, 25,000 people entered the capital city that day in support of voting rights.
In observance of the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday voting rights march that ended in violence at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, President Barack Obama will speak at noon Saturday March 7th. The events that transpired 50 years ago today horrified the nation and was a catalyst for both passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a transformation of American politics, government and society.
Eastern Regional Director of Social Action