Thursday, March 7, 2013
Today marks the anniversary of the first of three Marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, known as "Bloody Sunday." On March 7, 1965, an estimated 600 civil rights activists headed east out of Selma to march the 54 miles to the state capitol. They were demonstrating for African-American voting rights and to protest the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson who was shot by Alabama State Trooper, corporal James Bonard Fowler, during another voting rights march in Perry County earlier that year.
The march was led by John Lewis of SNCC, the Reverend Hosea Williams of SCLC, Bob Mants of SNCC and Albert Turner of SCLC. Though the march began smoothly they had walked only a mile when they met a wall of state troopers waiting for them on the other side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Earlier that morning Sheriff Jim Clark issued an order for all white males in Dallas County over the age of 21 to report to the courthouse to be deputized. Though the Rev. Williams tried in vain to speak to the commanding officer John Cloud, he was told to disband at once and go home. Moments later, the troopers began to assault the demonstrators, knocking them to the ground, beating them with nightsticks and firing tear gas as other troopers mounted on horseback charged the protesters. Seventeen marchers were severely injured and hospitalized.
That night televised footage of the brutal attack was seen around the world. The horrifying images of the marchers being attacked by officers of the law shifted national public opinion about the civil rights movement. Demonstrations broke out across the country.
Two days later, on March 9, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led about 2500 marchers to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. There they held a short prayer session before turning around, obeying the court order preventing them from marching all the way to Montgomery.
Two weeks later, on March 21, the third March from Selma to Montgomery began with 8,000 protesters. It too was led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When the march ended on Thursday, March 25, over 25,000 people marched to the steps of the State Capitol Building where King delivered the speech "How Long, Not Long."