Friday, March 7, 2014
Bloody Sunday. March 7, 1965............
Selma is the county seat and the largest town in Dallas County, Alabama. In 1961, Dallas County was 57 percent black. But only 130 of the 15,000 African Americans eligible had registered to vote. A civil rights organization, the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL), was formed to register black citizens.
On July 6, John L. Lewis (now a member of Congress) led 50 blacks to the local courthouse to register to vote. Sheriff Jim Clark arrested them. On July 9, Judge James Hare issued an injunction forbidding any gathering of three or more people under the sponsorship of civil rights organizations or leaders. The DCVL begged for assistance from Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The SCLC began working in Selma in December 1964. Throughout early 1965, SCLC activists expanded voter registration drives and protests in Selma and the adjacent counties.
On February 18, 1965, C. T. Vivian led a march to the courthouse in Marion, the county seat of nearby Perry County, to protest the arrest of voter registration activists. State officials ordered police to target Vivian specifically. The street lights around the courthouse were turned off, and state troopers attacked the protesters. One of them, 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson, fled to a nearby café where Alabama State Trooper James Bonard Fowler shot him twice in the stomach. Jackson died eight days later.
James Bevel, director of the SCLC voter registration drive in Selma, called for a march from Selma to Montgomery to talk to Governor George Wallace directly about Jackson's death. His goal was to give the African American people of Selma -- who were close to rioting -- a nonviolent goal to achieve. Wallace denounced the march as a threat to public safety.
On March 7, 525 to 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Highway 80. The march was led by John L. Lewis and Rev. Hosea Williams of the SCLC.
As the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they found a wall of state troopers waiting for them on the other side. Sheriff Jim Clark had deputized every white male in Dallas County over the age of 21 to stop the marchers.
Officer John Cloud told the demonstrators to disband at once and go home. Williams tried to speak to him, but Cloud refused. Seconds later, the troopers began shoving the demonstrators. Many were knocked to the ground and beaten with nightsticks. Another detachment of troopers fired tear gas, and mounted troopers charged the crowd on horseback. Amelia Boynton was beaten and gassed nearly to death. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized, and the day was nicknamed "Bloody Sunday".
Bloody Sunday was not the end of it.
The second march of 2,500 protesters took place March 9. Police forced them back after blocking the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
For the third march on March 16, 2,000 soldiers of the U.S. Army, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and numerous FBI agents and Federal Marshals protected the marchers. The protesters took five days to cover the 50 miles to Montgomery.
Their route is memorialized as the "Selma To Montgomery Voting Rights Trail", and is a U.S. National Historic Trail.