Selma to Montgomery march begins - HISTORY
Year
1965

Selma to Montgomery march begins

In the name of African-American voting rights, 3,200 civil rights demonstrators in Alabama, led by Martin Luther King Jr., begin a historic march from Selma to Montgomery, the state’s capital. Federalized Alabama National Guardsmen and FBI agents were on hand to provide safe passage for the march, which twice had been turned back by Alabama state police at Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge.

In 1965, King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) decided to make the small town of Selma the focus of their drive to win voting rights for African Americans in the South. Alabama’s governor, George Wallace, was a vocal opponent of the African-American civil rights movement, and local authorities in Selma had consistently thwarted efforts by the Dallas County Voters League and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register local blacks.

Although Governor Wallace promised to prevent it from going forward, on March 7 some 500 demonstrators, led by SCLC leader Hosea Williams and SNCC leader John Lewis, began the 54-mile march to the state capital. After crossing Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were met by Alabama state troopers and posse men who attacked them with nightsticks, tear gas and whips after they refused to turn back.

Several of the protesters were severely beaten, and others ran for their lives. The incident was captured on national television and outraged many Americans.

King, who was in Atlanta at the time, promised to return to Selma immediately and lead another attempt. On March 9, King led another marching attempt, but turned the marchers around when state troopers again blocked the road.

On March 21, U.S. Army troops and federalized Alabama National Guardsmen escorted the marchers across Edmund Pettus Bridge and down Highway 80. When the highway narrowed to two lanes, only 300 marchers were permitted, but thousands more rejoined the Alabama Freedom March as it came into Montgomery on March 25.

On the steps of the Alabama State Capitol, King addressed live television cameras and a crowd of 25,000, just a few hundred feet from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where he got his start as a minister in 1954.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Massacre in Sharpeville

In the black township of Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Afrikaner police open fire on a group of unarmed black South African demonstrators, killing 69 people and wounding 180 in a hail of submachine-gun fire. The demonstrators were protesting against the South ...read more

Second Battle of the Somme begins

During World War I, the Second Battle of the Somme, the first major German offensive in more a year, begins on the western front. After five hours of bombardment from more than 9,000 pieces of German artillery, the poorly prepared British Fifth Army was forced into retreat in ...read more

Napoleonic Code approved in France

After four years of debate and planning, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte enacts a new legal framework for France, known as the “Napoleonic Code.” The civil code gave post-revolutionary France its first coherent set of laws concerning property, colonial affairs, the family, and ...read more

Formula One champ Ayrton Senna born

Ayrton Senna da Silva, the three-time Formula One (F1) world champion, is born on this day in 1960, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Senna’s celebrated career was cut short in 1994 when he died at the age of 34 following a crash at a Grand Prix race in Italy. At the time of his death, he ...read more

Stanley begins search for Livingstone

On this day in 1871, journalist Henry Morton Stanley begins his famous search through Africa for the missing British explorer Dr. David Livingstone.In the late 19th century, Europeans and Americans were deeply fascinated by the “Dark Continent” of Africa and its many mysteries. ...read more

North Vietnam rejects Johnson overture

The North Vietnamese press agency reports that an exchange of notes took place in February between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Ho Chi Minh. The agency said that Ho rejected a proposal made by Johnson for direct talks between the United States and North Vietnam on ending the ...read more

Khmer Rouge shell Phnom Penh

In Cambodia, more than 100 civilians are killed and 280 wounded as communist Khmer Rouge artillery and rockets strike Phnom Penh and outlying areas in the heaviest attack since the beginning of the war in 1970. Following the shelling, a communist force of 500 troops attacked and ...read more

Ronaldinho is born

On March 21, 1980, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira is born in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Ronaldinho, as he is now known, became a soccer phenomenon, famous the world over for his breathtaking ball-handling skills and creative play.Ronaldinho began his soccer career with Gremio, one of two ...read more

Carter announces Olympic boycott

On this day in 1980, President Jimmy Carter announces that the U.S. will boycott the Olympic Games scheduled to take place in Moscow that summer. The announcement came after the Soviet Union failed to comply with Carter’s February 20, 1980, deadline to withdraw its troops from ...read more

“Broncho Billy” Anderson born

Gilbert M. Anderson, the first western movie star, is born in Little Rock, Arkansas.Better known as “Broncho Billy,” the name of the western hero he played in over 300 short films, Anderson was the first western movie star. Furthermore, he played several small parts in one of the ...read more

Famous Dallas cliffhanger airs

On this day in 1980, J.R. Ewing, the character millions love to hate on television’s popular prime-time drama Dallas, is shot by an unknown assailant. The shooting made the season-ending episode one of TV’s most famous cliffhangers, inspired widespread media coverage and left ...read more

Series of tornadoes hits Southeast U.S.

A storm system arising in the Gulf of Mexico spawns a devastating series of tornadoes that kills more than 350 people across the Southeast over two days. Thousands were seriously injured and many were left homeless by this deadly rash of twisters. The tornadoes began late on a ...read more

Alcatraz closes its doors

Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco Bay closes down and transfers its last prisoners. At it’s peak period of use in 1950s, “The Rock, or “”America’s Devil Island” housed over 200 inmates at the maximum-security facility. Alcatraz remains an icon of American prisons for its harsh ...read more

Carter tells U.S. athletes of Olympic boycott

President Jimmy Carter informs a group of U.S. athletes that, in response to the December 1979 Soviet incursion into Afghanistan, the United States will boycott the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. It marked the first and only time that the United States has boycotted the Olympics.After ...read more

Edwin V. Sumner dies

On this day in 1863, Union General Edwin Vose Sumner dies while awaiting reassignment to the far West. His death came months after he led his corps at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland.Born in Boston in 1793, Sumner joined the Army in 1819. He had already spent more than a ...read more