Read and learn about history. Pick out a good one!
"Selma is a major town and the seat of Dallas County, part of the Alabama Black Belt with a majority-black population. In 1961, the population of Dallas County was 57% black, but of the 15,000 blacks old enough to vote, only 130 were registered (fewer than 1%). At that time, more than 80% of Dallas County blacks lived below the poverty line, most of them working as sharecroppers, farmhands, maids, janitors, and day laborers, but there were also teachers and business owners. With the literacy test administered subjectively by white registrars, even educated blacks were prevented from registering or voting."
On March 7, 1965, an estimated 525 to 600 civil rights marchers headed southeast out of Selma on U.S. Highway 80. The march was led by John Lewis of SNCC and the Reverend Hosea Williams of SCLC, followed by Bob Mants of SNCC and Albert Turner of SCLC. The protest went according to plan until the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they encountered a wall of state troopers and county posse waiting for them on the other side.
County Sheriff Jim Clark had issued an order for all white males in Dallas County over the age of twenty-one to report to the courthouse that morning to be deputized. Commanding officer John Cloud told the demonstrators to disband at once and go home. Rev. Hosea Williams tried to speak to the officer, but Cloud curtly informed him there was nothing to discuss. Seconds later, the troopers began shoving the demonstrators, knocking many to the ground and beating them with nightsticks. Another detachment of troopers fired tear gas, and mounted troopers charged the crowd on horseback.[page needed]
Televised images of the brutal attack presented Americans and international audiences with horrifying images of marchers left bloodied and severely injured, and roused support for the Selma Voting Rights Campaign. Amelia Boynton, who had helped organize the march as well as marching in it, was beaten unconscious. A photograph of her lying on the road of the Edmund Pettus Bridge appeared on the front page of newspapers and news magazines around the world. Another marcher, Lynda Blackmon Lowery, age 14, was brutally beaten by a police officer during the march, and needed seven stitches for a cut above her right eye and 28 stitches on the back of her head. In all, 17 marchers were hospitalized and 50 treated for lesser injuries; the day soon became known as "Bloody Sunday" within the black community.
After the march, President Johnson issued an immediate statement "deploring the brutality with which a number of Negro citizens of Alabama were treated". He also promised to send a voting rights bill to Congress that week, although it took him until March 15.
SNCC officially joined the Selma campaign, putting aside their qualms about SCLC's tactics in order to rally for "the fundamental right of protest". SNCC members independently organized sit-ins in Washington, DC, the following day, occupying the office of Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach until they were dragged away.
The Executive Board of the NAACP unanimously passed a resolution the day after "Bloody Sunday", warning,
If Federal troops are not made available to protect the rights of Negroes, then the American people are faced with terrible alternatives. Like the citizens of Nazi-occupied France, Negroes must either submit to the heels of their oppressors or they must organize underground to protect themselves from the oppression of Governor Wallace and his storm troopers.
On the morning of March 9, a day that would become known as "Turnaround Tuesday", Collins handed Dr. King the secretly agreed route. King led about 2,500 marchers out on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and held a short prayer session before turning them around, thereby obeying the court order preventing them from making the full march, and following the agreement made by Collins, Lingo, and Clark. He did not venture across the border into the unincorporated area of the county, even though the police unexpectedly stood aside to let them enter.
As only SCLC leaders had been told in advance of the plan, many marchers felt confusion and consternation, including those who had traveled long distances to participate and oppose police brutality. King asked them to remain in Selma for another march to take place after the injunction was lifted.
That evening, three white Unitarian Universalist ministers in Selma for the march were attacked on the street and beaten with clubs by four KKK members. The worst injured was Reverend James Reeb from Boston. Fearing that Selma's public hospital would refuse to treat Reeb, activists took him to Birmingham's University Hospital, two hours away. Reeb died on Thursday, March 11 at University Hospital, with his wife by his side.
The third Selma Civil Rights March frontline. From far left: John Lewis, an unidentified nun; Ralph Abernathy; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Ralph Bunche; Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; Frederick Douglas Reese. Second row: Between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Bunche is Rabbi Maurice Davis. Heschel later wrote, "When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying." Joseph Ellwanger is standing in the second row behind the nun.
A week after Reeb's death, on Wednesday March 17, Judge Johnson ruled in favor of the protesters, saying their First Amendment right to march in protest could not be abridged by the state of Alabama:
The law is clear that the right to petition one's government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups . ... These rights may ... be exercised by marching, even along public highways.
Judge Johnson had sympathized with the protesters for some days, but had withheld his order until he received an iron-clad commitment of enforcement from the White House. President Johnson had avoided such a commitment in sensitivity to the power of the state's rights movement, and attempted to cajole Governor Wallace into protecting the marchers himself, or at least giving the president permission to send troops. Finally, seeing that Wallace had no intention of doing either, the president gave his commitment to Judge Johnson on the morning of March 17, and the judge issued his order the same day. To ensure that this march would not be as unsuccessful as the first two marches were, the president federalized the Alabama National Guard on March 20 to escort the march from Selma, The ground operation was supervised by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. He also sent Joseph A Califano Jr., who at the time served as Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, to outline the progress of the march. In a series of letters, Califano reported on the march at regular intervals for the four days.
On Sunday, March 21, close to 8,000 people assembled at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church to commence the trek to Montgomery. Most of the participants were black, but some were white and some were Asian and Latino. Spiritual leaders of multiple races, religions, and creeds marched abreast with Dr. King, including Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos, Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel and Maurice Davis, and at least one nun, all of whom were depicted in a photo that has become famous. The Dutch Catholic priest Henri Nouwen joined the march on March 24.
In 1965, the road to Montgomery was four lanes wide going east from Selma, then narrowed to two lanes through Lowndes County, and widened to four lanes again at the Montgomery county border. Under the terms of Judge Johnson's order, the march was limited to no more than 300 participants for the two days they were on the two-lane portion of Highway-80. At the end of the first day, most of the marchers returned to Selma by bus and car, leaving 300 to camp overnight and take up the journey the next day.
On March 22 and 23, 300 protesters marched through chilling rain across Lowndes County, camping at three sites in muddy fields. At the time of the march, the population of Lowndes County was 81% black and 19% white, but not a single black was registered to vote. There were 2,240 whites registered to vote in Lowndes County, a figure that represented 118% of the adult white population (in many Southern counties of that era it was common practice to retain white voters on the rolls after they died or moved away). On March 23, Hundreds of black marchers wore kippot, Jewish skullcaps, to emulate the marching rabbis, as Heschel was marching at the front of the crowd. The marchers called the kippot "freedom caps."
On the morning of March 24, the march crossed into Montgomery County and the highway widened again to four lanes. All day as the march approached the city, additional marchers were ferried by bus and car to join the line. By evening, several thousand marchers had reached the final campsite at the City of St. Jude, a complex on the outskirts of Montgomery.
That night on a makeshift stage, a "Stars for Freedom" rally was held, with singers Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Peter, Paul and Mary, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joan Baez, Nina Simone, and The Chad Mitchell Trio all performing. Thousands more people continued to join the march.
The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. ... I know you are asking today, How long will it take? I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long.
After delivering the speech, King and the marchers approached the entrance to the capitol with a petition for Governor Wallace. A line of state troopers blocked the door. One announced that the governor was not in. Undeterred, the marchers remained at the entrance until one of Wallace's secretaries appeared and took the petition.
Later that night, Viola Liuzzo, a white mother of five from Detroit who had come to Alabama to support voting rights for blacks, was assassinated by Ku Klux Klan members while she was ferrying marchers back to Selma from Montgomery. Among the Klansmen in the car from which the shots were fired was FBI informant Gary Rowe. Afterward, the FBI's COINTELPRO operation spread false rumors that Liuzzo was a member of the Communist Party and had abandoned her children to have sexual relationships with African-American activists.
The third Selma march received national and international coverage. It was reported that it publicized the marchers' message without harassment by police and segregation supporters. Gaining more widespread support from other civil rights organizations in the area, this third march was considered an overall success, with greater degree of influence on the public. Subsequently, voter registration drives were organized in black-majority areas across the South, but it took time to get the target population to sign up.
The marches had a powerful effect in Washington. After witnessing TV coverage of "Bloody Sunday", President Lyndon Baines Johnson met with Governor George Wallace in Washington to discuss the civil rights situation in his state. He tried to persuade Wallace to stop the state harassment of the protesters. Two nights later, on March 15, 1965, Johnson presented a bill to a joint session of Congress. The bill was passed that summer and signed by Johnson as the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.:168
Johnson's televised speech before Congress was carried nationally; it was considered to be a watershed moment for the civil rights movement. He said:
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.:278
Many in the Civil Rights Movement cheered the speech and were emotionally moved that after so long, and so hard a struggle, a President was finally willing to defend voting rights for blacks.
Many others in the movement remained skeptical of the White House, believing that Johnson was culpable for having allowed violence against the movement in the early months of the campaign and was not a reliable supporter. Neither Jimmie Lee Jackson's murderer, nor Reverend Reeb's was ever prosecuted by the federal government.J.L. Chestnut, reflecting the view of many Selma activists, feared that the president had "outfoxed" and "co-opted" King and the SCLC. James Forman quipped that by quoting "We Shall Overcome", Johnson had simply "spoiled a good song". Such grassroots activists were more determined than ever to remain independent in their political organizing.
Before the march to Montgomery concluded, SNCC staffers Stokely Carmichael and Cleveland Sellers committed themselves to registering voters in Lowndes County for the next year. Their efforts resulted in the creation of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, an independent third party.
The bill was signed by President Johnson in an August 6 ceremony attended by Amelia Boynton and many other civil rights leaders and activists. This act prohibited most of the unfair practices used to prevent blacks from registering to vote, and provided for federal registrars to go to Alabama and other states with a history of voting-related discrimination to ensure that the law was implemented by overseeing registration and elections.
In the early years of the Act, overall progress was slow, with local registrars continuing to use their power to deny African Americans voting access. In most Alabama counties, for example, registration continued to be limited to two days per month. The United States Civil Rights Commission acknowledged that "The Attorney General moved slowly in exercising his authority to designate counties for examiners ... he acted only in counties where he had ample evidence to support the belief that there would be intentional and flagrant violation of the Act." Dr. King demanded that federal registrars be sent to every county covered by the Act, but Attorney General Katzenbach refused.
In the summer of 1965, a well-funded SCLC decided to join SNCC and CORE in massive on-the-ground voter registration programs in the South. The Civil Rights Commission described this as a major contribution to expanding black voters in 1965, and the Justice Department acknowledged leaning on the work of "local organizations" in the movement to implement the Act. SCLC and SNCC were temporarily able to mend past differences through collaboration in the Summer Community Organization & Political Education project. Ultimately, their coalition foundered on SCLC's commitment to nonviolence and (at the time) the Democratic Party. Many activists worried that President Johnson still sought to appease Southern whites, and some historians support this view.
By March 1966, nearly 11,000 blacks had registered to vote in Selma, where 12,000 whites were registered. More blacks would register by November, when their goal was to replace County Sheriff Jim Clark; his opponent was Wilson Baker, for whom they had respect. In addition, five blacks ran for office in Dallas County. Rev. P. H. Lewis, pastor of Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, ran for state representative on the Democratic ticket. David Ellwanger, a brother of Rev. Joseph Ellwanger of Birmingham, who led supporters in Selma in 1965, challenged incumbent state senator Walter C. Givhan (d. 1976), a fierce segregationist and a power in the state senate. First elected to the state senate in 1954, Givhan retained his seat for six terms, even after redistricting that preceded the 1966 election.
In November 1966, Katzenbach told Johnson regarding Alabama, that "I am attempting to do the least I can do safely without upsetting the civil rights groups." Katzenbach did concentrate examiners and observers in Selma for the "high-visibility" election between incumbent County Sheriff Jim Clark and Wilson Baker, who had earned the grudging respect of many local residents and activists. With 11,000 blacks added to the voting rolls in Selma by March 1966, they voted for Baker in 1966, turning Clark out of office. Clark later was prosecuted and convicted of drug smuggling and served a prison sentence. The US Civil Rights Commission said that the murders of activists, such as Jonathan Daniels in 1965, had been a major impediment to voter registration.
Overall, the Justice Department assigned registrars to six of Alabama's 24 Black Belt counties during the late 1960s, and to fewer than one-fifth of all the Southern counties covered by the Act. Expansion of enforcement grew gradually, and the jurisdiction of the Act was expanded through a series of amendments beginning in 1970. An important change was made in 1972, when Congress passed an amendment that discrimination could be determined by "effect" rather than by trying to prove "intent". Thus, if county or local practices resulted in a significant minority population being unable to elect candidates of their choice, the practices were considered to be discriminatory in effect.
In 1960, there were a total of 53,336 black voters registered in the state of Alabama; three decades later, there were 537,285, a tenfold increase.
Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail sign
Memorial at Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama
metmike: This bears repeating.........In 1960, there were a total of 53,336 black voters registered in the state of Alabama; three decades later, there were 537,285, a tenfold increase.
My brother Gary just sent this message:
"Did you ever see the Martin Luther King movie that was out some years ago. It was about the March and think the movie was called Selma.
I went with Dad to watch at Fairlane. I found it informative. Sometimes you know about an event but not many of the details. Of course it’s a movie so they have some fictional elaboration with conversations but you get all the historical details.
Dad and I both really liked it. The theater wasn’t that crowded and we were the only 2 white people in the viewing audience"
metmike: I don't like rap music but will pass this one on because its connected to the movie.