50th Anniversary of Selma to Montgomery March
The Selma to Montgomery march will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, which took place back in 1965 from March 7 to March 25.
The march began at Selma, Alabama and was led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and 600 other civil rights activists. On that “Bloody Sunday” in 1965, the group traveled east out of the city on U.S. Route 80 and only made it to the Edmund Pettus Bridge where they were met by state and local lawmen. The group was ordered to disperse, and when the protestors stood their ground the troopers charged at them.
The New York Times wrote about the attack on March 8, 1965, saying, “The first 10 or 20 Negroes were swept to the ground screaming, arms and legs flying and packs and bags went skittering across the grassy divider strip and on to the pavement on both sides. Those still on their feet retreated. The troopers continued pushing, using both the force of their bodies and the prodding of their nightsticks.”
The march was a display of unification of black Americans to exercise their constitutional right to vote, and was also a response to the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson who was shot at point-blank range after participating in a peaceful demonstration in Marion. The killing caused immense backlash among civil rights activists, and placed a negative light upon the law enforcement that dealt with Jackson.
The attack was recorded by TV news broadcasters and was shared with the rest of the nation, which stunned people from every corner of the U.S. One of the most enduring photos from “Bloody Sunday” is that of Mrs. Boynton lying unconscious on the bridge.
To commemorate the anniversary, people swarmed into Selma to re-create the march, which is a 54-mile trek from the city to the capitol of Alabama in Montgomery. Every five years the march is re-created, but this year’s march has spawned an extra feeling of excitement, joy and respect.
President Obama was one of the few figures to highlight this year’s march, as was former president George W. Bush and his wife Laura. Joining them were new faces who had never stepped a foot on the bridge as well as those who had 50 years ago.
After crossing the bridge, President Obama addressed the crowd in a tremendous speech that has been hailed as one of his best. Highlighting the past work of MLK and other civil rights activists, President Obama showed the resiliency of the U.S. when it came to fighting for justice, and how the march is not over, but just beginning.
“What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?”
After his speech, the journey to walk in the footsteps of past marchers started as a small group proceeded to live out history for themselves.