March 7, 1965 – “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama

On Sunday March 7, 1965 about six hundred people led by John Lewis and Hosea Williams began a fifty-four mile march from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery. They were demonstrating for African American voting rights and to commemorate the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, shot three weeks earlier by a state trooper while Jackson was trying to protect his mother at a civil rights demonstration. On the outskirts of Selma, after the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were brutally assaulted by heavily armed state troopers and deputies in plain sight of photographers and journalists.

Alabama State Troopers Attack John Lewis at the Edmund Pettis Bridge

Alabama State Troopers Attack John Lewis at the Edmund Pettis Bridge

The state troopers threw tear gas into the crowd, and as the crowd fled back toward downtown Selma, mounted possemen swung clubs or homemade flails of rubber hose laced with spikes. Taylor Branch, in At Canaan’s Edge, reports:

“By 3:30 p.m., more than a hundred troopers, possemen, and sheriff’s deputies pursued the marchers over the mile back to the neighborhood around Brown Chapel [the starting point of the march], where they attacked stragglers in a frenzy. Some drove their quarry indoors; others yelled for Negroes to come out. Down the block, troopers threw one teenager through a ground-floor window into the basement of First Baptist Church. … Thirty minutes after the marchers’ encounter with the troopers, a Negro could not be seen walking the streets.”

Doctors and nurses worked all night on more than one hundred patients, who were only accepted at one hospital – a Catholic mission facility in a black neighborhood. The most common injuries were lacerations and broken bones, but there were also fractured skulls and injuries secondary to tear gas.

ABC News interrupted the Sunday night movie, Judgement in Nuremberg, to show footage of violence in Selma to forty-eight million viewers. Within two days, demonstrations in support of the marchers were held in eighty cities, and thousands of religious and lay leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, flew to Selma. On March 9, Dr. King led another group to the Pettus Bridge where they knelt, prayed, and returned to Brown Chapel.

Allowing CBS footage of “Bloody Sunday” as evidence in court, Federal Judge Frank Johnson, Jr. ruled on March 17 that the demonstrators be permitted to march. Under protection of a federalized National Guard, voting rights advocates left Selma on March 21 and stood 25,000 strong on March 25 before the state capitol in Montgomery.

Dr. King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy on the Resumed March

Dr. King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy on the Resumed March

As a direct consequence of these events, the U.S. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, guaranteeing every American aged twenty-one and over the right to register to vote. During the next four years the number of U.S. blacks eligible to vote rose from 23 to 61 percent.

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4 Responses to March 7, 1965 – “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama

  1. ALBERT ERVIN says:

    LET’S HOPE AMERICA WILL LEARN A LESSON ABOUT

    IT’S PAST AND PRESENT RACISM OF WHAT HAPPENED

    IN MY HOME TOWN OF SELMA. AND THE BOMBING IN

    BIRMINGHAM. INNOCENT LIVES TAKEN BY THE DEVIL”

  2. Sheila Foreman says:

    I visited this site last summer, and cried like a baby. when I think of what our people went through just to vote…I still get choked up. Now the young folks who are at a voting age, don’t vote…or should I say can’t vote….they cannot read the ballots.

    What are we as a people going to do to fix this problem with our youth from 12-25 years old (some older)?

    Sometimes I think “is this what we’ve come to?” Our youth has lost their minds…drugs, gangs, what the heck. I am pround to be a black woman 60+ years of age, but I am ashamed of the black youth of today.. no guidance, no home training, no BLACK MEN in the homes, …nothing but violence against their own….especially their own women and girls…….I can’t say any more because it hurts too bad…I pray for our race…God please deliver us from one another……

  3. Ramona Samuel says:

    God help us all….That all I can say…

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