White female marcher being carried away by Montgomery police, March 1965
The Selma to Montgomery Marches were organized in March of 1965 by the Dallas County (Alabama) Voters League and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to protest discrimination against black voters. At that time, less than 1% of voting age blacks in Dallas County were registered to vote because of intimidation and a literacy test.
It took three tries for the protesters to successfully make their way from Selma to Montgomery. On March 7th (Bloody Sunday) protesters made it only six blocks before they were attacked by police with billy clubs and tear gas. On March 9th, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a symbolic march to Edmund Pettus Bridge where they had been turned back two days early. On March 16th, Federal District Court Judge Frank Johnson ruled in favor of the march and the state of Alabama was forced to allow the protest.
On March 21st, thousands assembled in Selma for the march to Montgomery. Most were black, although white, Asian and Latino protesters also took part. Walking 12 miles a day, they made it to Montgomery on March 25th and an enlarged protest of 25,000 people headed for the State Capitol Building.
On March 15th, President Lyndon B. Johnson submitted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to Congress saying:
Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.
Today Edmund Pettrus Bridge is part of the National Park Service’s Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement.