Selma to Montgomery marches

The three 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a landmark achievement of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. All three protest marches were attempts to walk the 54-mile highway from Selma to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery.

The voting rights movement in Selma was launched by local African-Americans, who formed the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL). Joined by organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), they began registering black voters in 1963. When white resistance to their work proved intractable, the DCVL turned to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who eventually brought many prominent civil rights and civic leaders to Selma in January 1965.

The following month Jimmie Lee Jackson, a voting-rights activist, was mortally wounded during a march in Marion, Alabama, inflaming community passions. To defuse and refocus the anger, SCLC Director of Direct Action James Bevel, who was directing SCLC's Selma Campaign and had been working on his Alabama Project for voting rights since late 1963, called for a march of dramatic length, from Selma to Montgomery.

The first march took place on March 7, 1965; it gained the nickname "Bloody Sunday" after its 600 marchers were attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas. The second march took place March 9; police and marchers stood off against one another, but when the troopers stepped aside to let them pass, King led the marchers back to the church.

The third march started March 21. Protected by 2,000 soldiers of the U.S. Army, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and many FBI agents and Federal Marshals, the marchers averaged 10 miles (16 km) a day along U.S. Route 80, known in Alabama as the "Jefferson Davis Highway". The marchers arrived in Montgomery on March 24 and at the Alabama State Capitol on March 25.

The route is memorialized as the Selma To Montgomery Voting Rights Trail, and is a U.S. National Historic Trail.

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