55 YEARS LATER: Thousands gather to commemorate the Selma-to-Montgomery march by retracing historic steps

Black History Month

SELMA, Ala. (WIAT) — This month marks the 55th anniversary of the historic march by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many advocates of the civil rights movement who marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma all the way to the Alabama state capital in Montgomery to fight for equal voter rights.

What led up to these historic marches was years of voter suppression based on race, with many black voters in Alabama being subjected to unfair tests and procedures that their white counterparts were not required to take.

For a time, King and other leaders in the civil rights movement had tried to organize different marches and events to bring awareness to the cause, but they ultimately did not make much impact as what was to come.

Here is a timeline of the march:

March 5, 1965– After meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson to discuss the Voting Rights Act, King announces a plan for a march from Selma to Montgomery.

March 7, 1965– The first march, now known as “Bloody Sunday,” was met with violence by Alabama State Troopers after marchers refused orders to scatter in Selma. Future Congressman John Lewis was one of the dozens of marchers who was injured during the thwarted first march.

March 9, 1965– Another march is organized while attorney Fred Gray and others ask the federal courts to allow the marchers to go their way without interference from state troopers or law enforcement. On that day, 2,000 people marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and then walk back due to the federal court not issuing an order in the matter yet. That night, Unitarian Universalist minister and marcher James Reeb is beaten and later dies from his injuries.

March 13, 1965– Johnson asks Gov. George Wallace to set up the Alabama National Guard to protect the marchers.

March 15, 1965– During a joint session of Congress, Johnson voices support of the Voting Rights Act.

March 17, 1965– The courts rule that the marchers can demonstrate and sets up a plan to protect them during the march. King announces a third Selma-to-Montgomery march.

March 20, 1965– Johnson authorizes the Alabama National Guard to protect the marchers, as well hundreds of military police officers and Army troops.

March 21, 1965– Thousands of marchers join together at Brown Chapel in Selma to begin the five-day walk to Montgomery.

March 25, 1965– The marchers arrive in Montgomery and a large rally is held on the steps of the Capitol building. Later that night, Viola Liuzzo is shot and killed by Klansmen as she is driving to pick up marchers in Montgomery.

August 6, 1965– Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law.

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