SELMA TO MONTGOMERY MARCH
In the mid-1960’s, Civil Rights activism was in full swing, and was headed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Through the fifteenth amendment, which granted African American men the privilege to vote had been around since the late 19th century, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade discrimination based on race when it came to voting, there was still much resistance towards getting people of color registered to vote in many areas of the south. Action was needed, and King felt like Selma, Alabama was the appropriate place to take a stand against the injustices.
In early 1965, Dr. King and his comrades made the decision to focus on Selma, Alabama, which was located in the center of Dallas County as the place to protest and march against the resistance of black voter registration. The Alabama governor at the time was a notorious segregation proponent by the name of George Wallace, and a police sheriff of Dallas County had publicly and outspokenly opposed black voter registration drives. This lead to the alarming statistic that only 300 out of the 15,000 eligible black voters in Selma were actually registered to vote, a 2% clip that was not representative of the number of citizens who wanted to be registered.
The first March of this kind took place on March 7, where Dr. King and the SCLC gathered in Selma with the plan to march the 54 miles to Montgomery in protest. The initial attempt did not have the expected result for the SCLC, as the 600 marchers were pushed back to Selma by Alabama state troopers using whips, nightsticks, and tear gas. Although the march did not work, it was not entirely unsuccessful, as the incident was videotaped and spread across the nation, where King began to garner further support from around the country. Two days later, they attempted again, but retreated when they realized that the result would be the same. After a U.S. District judge ordered the march to happen, and President Lyndon Johnson publicly supported Dr. King and his colleagues, the march occurred on March 21, with the now 2,000 marchers making the 5 day trip on foot. Upon arrival, the marchers were met by 50,000 supporters of all races to hear Dr. King and others speak at the steps of the State Capitol building where King proclaimed that “No tide of racism can stop us”.
The legacy of this event is hard to measure. Without the march, who knows how much public attention this issue would have drummed up. President Johnson claimed that he was in the midst of drawing up legislation to prevent the resistance of black voter registration, but it is hard to tell how serious this was prior to the march. In August of 1965, approximately 5 months after the Selma to Montgomery March, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, granting all eligible people the right to vote with no such restrictions that were present prior to the march.