“If the worst in American life lurked in [Selma’s] dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March 25, 1965
Washington DC: This Sunday, US President Obama joined thousands of Americans at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to honor the sacrifice and bravery of the men and women who bled there, on that very pavement exactly 50 years ago. Many of those original “foot soldiers” joined him, including Congressman John Lewis, who helped to organize the first march over this bridge in 1965, who endured a tragic beating on that “Bloody Sunday,” and who yesterday strode arm in arm with the President of the United States.
Fifty years ago, on March 7, 1965, hundreds of people gathered in Selma, Alabama to march to the capital city of Montgomery. They marched to ensure that African Americans could exercise their constitutional right to vote — even in the face of a segregationist system that wanted to make it impossible.
On the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, state troopers and county members violently attacked the marchers, leaving many of them injured and bloodied — and some of them unconscious.
But the marchers didn’t stop. Two days later, Dr. Martin Luther King led roughly 2,500 people back to the Pettus Bridge before turning the marchers around — obeying a court order that prevented them from making the full march.
The third march started on March 21, with protection from 1,000 military policemen and 2,000 Army troops. Thousands of people joined along the way to Montgomery, with roughly 25,000 people entering the capital on the final leg of the march. On March 25, the marchers made it to the entrance of the Alabama State Capitol building, with a petition for Gov. George Wallace.
Only a few months later, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law on August 6, 1965. The Voting Rights Act was designed to eliminate legal barriers at the state and local level that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment — after nearly a century of unconstitutional discrimination.