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SELMA MARCH, 1965

Civil Rights March in Alabama

The Selma to Montgomery marches occurred in 1965, as non-violent activists united from various civil rights organizations to march along the 54-mile highway from Selma, Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery. The marches were part of a broader voting rights movement underway throughout the American South. The marches were a crucial factor in that year’s passage of the federal Voting Rights Act, a landmark achievement of the civil rights movement.


State laws and discriminatory practices had disenfranchised most of the millions of African Americans across the South throughout the 20th century. Civil rights groups working to register black voters faced intractable opposition from white officials. Protests broke out with mass arrests and beatings by police. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated his intention to U.S. president Lyndon Johnson to use the situation in Selma to draw attention to unjust voter suppression.


After the fatal shooting of Deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson by a state trooper during a peaceful march in Marion, Alabama, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) called for a march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. State troopers and county posses attacked unarmed marchers in what become known as Bloody Sunday. Later, a white group beat and murdered James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister participating in the March. The violence led to a national outcry, prompting President Johnson to convene a nationally televised joint session of Congress to ask for passage of the Voting Rights Bill.


With Alabama’s Governor refusing to protect the marchers, President Johnson committed 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under federal command to do so. Twenty-five thousand marchers and activists arrived at the Alabama State Capitol on March 25, and the Voting Rights Act was passed.


The photo featured in this art piece was taken by Peter Pettus and is in the U.S. National Archives.