On This Day: Bloody Sunday

March 7, 2023
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March 7, 1965

“Bloody Sunday”

A pivotal turning point in America’s civil rights movement.

The Background

  • In 1870, Congress passed the 15th Amendment to guarantee that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
  • However, many states passed laws or employed practices that still limited access for some voters – i.e., poll taxes, literacy exams, fraud, and intimidation.

“Bloody Sunday”

  • Approx. 600 nonviolent activists planned to march 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery, AL in protest for African-American voting rights.
  • They made it only 6 blocks, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge – where law enforcement ordered the march to stop and disperse.
  • Armed officers, many in gas masks, beat and tear-gassed protesters.
  • Photographers captured the violent scene, which was broadcast around the world.
“Mr. Williams said, ‘Can I have a word?’ He said, ‘There will be no word.’ And about a minute or more Major Cloud ordered the Troopers to advance … they moved forward with their clubs up over their—near their shoulder, the top part of the body; they came rushing in, knocking us down and pushing us.”

Congressman John Lewis – a young civil rights leader at the time – led the march with Hosea Williams, a fellow activist.

Aftermath

In the days that followed, 80 cities around the nation held demonstrations in support of the protestors.

Faith and civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., flew to Selma.

3 weeks later, under the protection of thousands of soldiers (and federal agents), 3000+ set out to march from Selma to Montgomery. Ultimately, 25,000 marchers arrived.

“What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America … And we shall overcome.”

Pres. Lyndon Johnson in the days following the march. Months later, he signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, which many see as a direct legislative action in response to “Bloody Sunday.” The law prohibits literacy tests and requires federal oversight over any other local laws that could lead to limits on voting rights.

“There are more bridges to cross, but we will make it … ​I just believe deeply within it’s just a matter of time, that fate and history will come together. And we will get there.”

The late U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in 2019, discussing “Bloody Sunday.” Rep. Lewis, who died in July 2020 at the age of 80, was brutally beaten that day. He spent his career in public service advocating for racial equality and partook in the annual commemoration of “Bloody Sunday” for 55 years.

“Bloody Sunday” was commemorated once again on Sunday. Pres. Biden joined leaders from the civil rights movement as they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

John Lewis – March from Selma to Montgomery, “Bloody Sunday,” 1965: First-hand account from National Archive

Joe Biden visits Selma on ‘Bloody Sunday’ anniversary, calls for protecting voting rights (AL.com)

by Jenna Lee,

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