March 7, 1965 is a day the world will not forget. Given the name “Bloody Sunday” due to the events that unfolded on that day in Selma, Alabama, hundreds of African Americans were beaten as they marched for the racial equality and the right to vote.
Bloody Sunday followed the horrendous event that occurred a month earlier in a nearby town, Marion, where a Black demonstrator, 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson, was fatally shot during a protest. Jackson was attempting to protect his mother from the police, who were clubbing protesters. His assassination was what spurred voting right marches, starting in Selma and ending in Montgomery.
On Bloody Sunday’s march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in this very segregated Jim Crow state, John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) did not expect the events to unfold as they did.
The marchers were met with a wall of state troopers wearing gas masks and wielding billy clubs, as well as deputies of Jim Clark, the Dallas County sheriff, and Confederate-flag-waving white onlookers.
Lewis, Williams, and the other marchers continued on, despite the warnings of troopers who called out that continuing the march would be “detrimental” to their safety. The troopers then advanced to the crowd, fighting them to the ground, delivering blows, and spraying tear gas. The marchers, abiding by their nonviolent activism stance, did not fight back.
This grisly event soon made national news, as there were television cameras present that documented the happenings of that dark day in Selma. The footage shown on the tv screens of millions of Americans were not only appalling, but it brought to the forefront the injustices that the Black community was facing in the United States.
Many people around the world set up traffic blockades and staged sit-ins to show support to the plight of African Americans and to stand in solidarity with them against the wrongdoings of the troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Following the march, President Lyndon Johnson issued a statement against the actions of the troopers and soon sent a voting rights bill to Congress on March 15. In Johnson’s speech in support of the marchers he said, “It is wrong to deny any person full equality because of the color of his skin.”
On August 6, 1965, the bill was signed into law, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited discriminatory voting practices in various southern states.
It has been less than six decades since the shocking events of Bloody Sunday, and there is still much work to be done in the fight for equality for African Americans. We will not forget the work that generations before us have done, and we must continue to stand tall in the face of injustice.
Check out this video on Bloody Sunday by NBC News.