On March 7, 1965, about 600 people crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in an attempt to begin the Selma to Montgomery march. State troopers violently attacked the peaceful demonstrators in an attempt to stop the march for voting rights. The late representative John Lewis (D-GA) was nearly beaten to death. Due to the pandemic, this year the march will be commemorated with a parade of cars and without John Lewis, who passed away last July.
The march from Selma was the first of three protest marches, held in 1965, along the 54-mile (87 km) highway from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery.
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 men 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. 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. John Lewis suffered a skull fracture and bore scars on his head from the incident for the rest of his life. In all, 17 marchers were hospitalized and 50 treated for lesser injuries; the day soon became known as “Bloody Sunday” within the black community
This year’s March is dedicated to John Lewis and other Civil Rights leaders we lost this year, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a “dean” of the civil rights movement; the minister C.T. Vivian; and civil rights attorney Bruce Boynton.
The Senate should end the filibuster and pass HR1 and restore the Voting Rights Act to protect our Republic and democracy.