President Obama delivered a magnificent speech at the 50th aniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Selma, Alabama at the Edmond Pettus Bridge. The President mentioned the Ferguson Protest in the same spirit as Selma and discussed the DOJ Ferguson Investigation report.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., John Lewis returned to Selma to speaks at the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”. 50 years after John Lewis was beaten, he introduced President Obama on the very bridge where he was beaten.
The History of “Bloody Sunday”
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.
A series of discriminatory requirements and practices disenfranchised most of the millions of African Americans across the South since the turn of the century. The African American group known as The Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) 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 in January 1965. Local and regional protests began, with 3,000 people arrested by the end of February.
On February 26, 1965, activist and deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson died after being mortally shot several days earlier by a state trooper during a peaceful march in Marion, Alabama. To defuse and refocus the community’s outrage, SCLC Director of Direct Action James Bevel, who was directing SCLC’s Selma Voting Rights Movement, called for a march of dramatic length, from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. Bevel had been working on his Alabama Project for voting rights since late 1963.
The first march took place on March 7, 1965. Bevel, Amelia Boynton, and others helped organize it. The march recently gained the nickname “Bloody Sunday” (a term more commonly applied to an analagous incident in Northern Ireland dating from 1972) 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 Universalis 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 violence of “Bloody Sunday” and of Reeb’s death led to a national outcry and some acts of civil disobedience, targeting both the Alabama state and federal governments. The protesters demanded protection for the Selma marchers and a new federal voting rights law to enable African Americans to register and vote without harassment. President Lyndon Johnson, whose administration had been working on a voting rights law, held a televised joint session of Congress on March 15 to ask for the bill’s introduction and passage.
With Governor Wallace refusing to protect the marchers, President Johnson committed to do so. 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.
The route is memorialized as the Selma To Montgomery Voting Rights Trail, and is a U.S. National Historic Trail.
For those that think it’s too much trouble to protect and preserve your rights in court, consider how much trouble those that came before us went through that fought and died so that you could have privileges that you now take for granted.
Eight days after “Bloody Sunday”, President Lyndon Johnson addressed Congress and the American People and delivered his Voting Rights Speech.