This Day in History: 1965-03-09

African American voting rights activists conduct the second (of three) Selma to Montgomery protest marches in March 1965. The immediately-preceding prior march, on March 7, had ended when state troopers and county possemen violently attacked the nonviolent marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in an event now known as Bloody Sunday. In sharp contrast, second march ended peacefully and has come to be known as Turnaround Tuesday. It is so named because when troopers, police, and marchers confronted each other at the county end of the bridge, the troopers stepped aside to let them pass, but Martin Luther King, Jr., them led the marchers back to the church Selma church from which the March had originated. However, that evening three white Unitarian Universalist ministers in Selma for the march were attacked on the street and beaten with clubs by four KKK members. The worst injured was Reverend James Reeb from Boston. Fearing that Selma’s public hospital would refuse to treat Reeb, activists took him to Birmingham’s University Hospital, two hours away. Reeb died on Thursday, March 11 at University Hospital, with his wife by his side.

The Selma to Montgomery marches were a series of marches along the 54-mile (87 km) highway from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery.  The marches were organized by nonviolent activists to demonstrate the desire of African-American citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote, in defiance of violent segregationist repression. The marches were part of a broader voting rights movement underway in Selma and throughout the American South. By highlighting racial injustice, they contributed to passage that year of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark federal achievement of the civil rights movement. The Selma to Montgomery marches were preceded earlier in the year by several local and regional marches protesting the denial of voting rights. Local and state officials sought to fiercely repress the peaceful marches, with approximately 3,000 people arrested by the end of February. The February 18 murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson by a state trooper directly precipitated planning for the Selma to Montgomery marches. Learn more.