Selma 50: Remembering Bloody Sunday

bloody-sundayWith the latest “Selma” movie, the town is and the history of the march to Selma is getting a lot of attention. The events of the first of the three Selma-To-Montgomery marches in Alabama shocked the nation and the world. Known as “Bloody Sunday,” the racially-motivated and brutal attack by police on the peaceful protesters crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge took place 50 years ago this coming Saturday.

Organized by James Bevel, Amelia Boynton Robinson and others for the SCLC’s Selma Voting Rights Movement campaign, over 600 marchers bravely took to the bridge that crossed into Montgomery where the state capitol grounds were. State troopers and racist white citizens armed with hand-held weapons viciously beat back the crowd despite their non-violent tactics.

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Boynton Robinson was severely injured and bloodied during the clash, and the photo of her crumpled body spread around national newspapers and global outlets. The sight of Boynton Robinson lying in a heap caused serious outrage and debate among civil rights activists and their detractors. Later that night, an angry white mob beat white activist and minister James Reeb to death.

The news of Bloody Sunday led Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to lead the second of the marches on March 9 with around 1,500 participants. Although Gov. George Wallace still had his troops on the bridge to head off the march, they stepped aside. But instead of continuing to Montgomery, King marched the group back to a church.

The violence led President Johnson to hold a televised joint session of Congress to introduce the Voting Rights Act and to call for its speedy passage. The last of the marches began on March 21 and President Johnson offered federal protection to the protesters.

Deploying 2,000 U.S. Army solders and 1,900 members of the state’s National Guard along with the FBI, the marchers walked around 10 miles per day along U.S. Route 80. The group made it to Montgomery on March 24 and then gathered at the Alabama State Capitol the following day. Approximately 25,000 people of all races and backgrounds came to Montgomery to support of equal voting rights.

The Voting Rights Act, which will also see its 50th year in existence, was signed into law on August 6, 1965.

President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and about 100 members of Congress are converging on Selma, Alabama, on Saturday March 7, 2015 for the 50th anniversary of a landmark event of the civil rights movement.

Obama will speak in the riverside town to commemorate “Bloody Sunday,” the day in 1965 when police attacked marchers demonstrating for voting rights.

More events are planned for Sunday, with civil rights veterans leading a symbolic walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Police beat and tear-gassed marchers at the foot of the bridge on March 7, 1965 in an ugly spasm of violence that shocked the nation