Cops and Civil Rights Marchers Clash in Selma


Alabama Cops on the wrong side of history – and morality

On March 7, 1965 a group of civil rights marchers led by James Bevel and Amelia Boynton marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge out of Selma, Alabama.  They were met by Alabama State Police, local police, and a posse of thugs.  What ensued became known as “Bloody Sunday” as State Police beat the protesters as they came off the bridge and onto the state highway.

The protest march was the first of a series of marches from Selma to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery.  The protesters were bringing awareness to the illegal voting rights laws that kept black citizens from registering to vote.  These laws used reading requirements, poll taxes, and other discriminatory practices to ensure that blacks would not make it to the ballot box.  The City of Selma was 30% black but only 1% of registered voters were black.

These marches were meant to bring attention to Alabama’s segregationist practices and draw support for a federal Voting Rights Act that President Johnson had been promising.  The police that were there to stop the peaceful march would play an important but unwitting role in getting that bill passed. 

As the protesters came up to the apex of the bridge they saw the lines of police in their way and knew that they would be in for a conflict.  Alabama State Police Commander John Cloud ordered the protestors to get out of the roadway and disperse.  Marchers stoically stood their ground, police moved forward. 

What occurred next would make national news. Reporters were able to take photos of the events which brought the events home to new audiences.  The police attacked the crowd with tear gas, mounted police officers, and batons.  Many of the protesters were women, children, and clergymen.  All were seemingly attacked indiscriminately.  Almost 70 of the 500 marchers were injured, 17 required hospitalization.  People seeing the images in other parts of the country were horrified. 

The march was stopped, but only temporarily.  Another march was organized for March 9th, and again for March 21.  The March 21 event received the protection of the national guard.  With numbers ballooning to almost 8,000, the march made it the 50 miles to the Alabama State Capital Building in Montgomery.  The attention that the marches helped garner support on the federal level.  On August 6, 1965, the Federal Voting Rights Act became law when President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill in a public ceremony. 


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