Saturday, March 07, 2015

'Bloody Sunday' 50th Anniversary

 While more people are aware of it because of the movie Selma, today marks the 50th anniversary of the brutal breakup of the first Selma to Montgomery voting rights march by Alabama state troopers on March 7, 1965.

SNCC and local activists between 1961-1964 had been trying to organize voter registration drives despite massive resistance from Dallas County, Alabama officials in the county seat of Selma.

They convinced the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and SCLC to get involved and make Selma's intransigence to African-American voting a national concern.  They agreed, and began a series of demonstrations in January-February 1965 to the Dallas County Courthouse.

On February 17 protester Jimmy Lee Cooper was fatally shot by an Alabama state trooper and in response, a Selma to Montgomery protest march was scheduled for March 7.

Six hundred marchers assembled in Selma on Sunday, March 7, and, led by John Lewis and other SNCC and SCLC activists, crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River en route to Montgomery. Just short of the bridge, they found their way blocked by Alabama State troopers and local police who ordered them to turn around. When the protesters refused, the officers shot teargas and waded into the crowd, beating the nonviolent protesters with billy clubs and ultimately hospitalizing over fifty people.
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Six hundred marchers led by future congressman John Lewis and other SNCC and SCLC leaders set off for Montgomery and crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River.  

On the other side of it they were met by a wall of Alabama state troopers and local police demanding they turn back  When they refused,  the police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd and beating people with their billy clubs   They sent 50 people to the hospital, including John Lewis.

The violent beating of nonviolent protestors was televised around the world, and led Dr King to call for a second march that he led despite being torn by federal officials urging him to exercise patience and the SNCC and SCLC activist demanding action.

The second march happened on March 9, but King turned it around at the bridge, which exacerbated the developing tension between the civil rights movement elders and the younger activists in SCLC and the more militant SNCC demanding radical action and tactics to overcome the oppressive systems.

On March 21 the third successful march occurred under federal protection, and on August 6 the Voting Rights Act passed, spurred by the horrific violence of the Bloody Sunday march

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