What is “Bloody Sunday” about? How Attacks on Black Protesters in Selma Boosted Support for the 1965 Voting Rights Act

SELMA, Alabama – March 7, 1965 will forever go down in American history as “Bloody Sunday.”

On that fateful day, 600 civil rights activists gathered in Selma, Alabama, to begin a 52-mile march to the state capital, Montgomery.

Led by future Congressmen John Lewis and Hosea Williams, the peaceful protesters called for an end to voter registration discrimination, particularly against black Southerners.

While ratification of the 15th Amendment of 1870 gave African Americans the right to vote, repressive and discriminatory state and local laws—such as ballot taxes, literacy tests, and other voter-suppressing tactics—kept them out of the Jim Crow South ballot box.

As the crowd attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were confronted by white Alabama State Troopers, who brutally attacked them with clubs and tear gas.

Seventeen people were hospitalized and dozens more were injured by police, including Lewis, who suffered a fractured skull.

The televised images of violence sent shockwaves across the country and helped put pressure on politicians to tackle electoral discrimination.

A week after Bloody Sunday, President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to outlaw racial discrimination in voting.

“What happened in Selma is part of a much larger movement that reaches into every section and state of America,” Johnson said in an address. “It is the endeavor of the American Negro to secure the full blessings of American life. Your cause must also be our cause. For it is not just the Negroes, but truly all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we will win.”

Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into effect on August 6, 1965, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists attended the ceremony.

After the signing, a majority of the black electorate in the southern states was able to vote for the first time in American history.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck out part of the 1965 law that required certain states with a history of electoral discrimination, mostly in the South, to get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before changing how they hold elections.

Proponents of ending pre-clearance said that while the requirement was necessary in the 1960s, it was no longer needed. Voting rights activists have warned that the end of pre-authorization is emboldening states to adopt a new wave of voting restrictions.

CLOCK: Our America: New Frontier of Voting Rights focuses on those working to ensure fair and equitable access to the ballot box

On Sunday, Vice President Kamala Harris will speak in Selma at an event celebrating the 57th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”. Harris is the first female U.S. vice president and the first black woman and person of South Asian descent to hold the role.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All rights reserved. What is “Bloody Sunday” about? How Attacks on Black Protesters in Selma Boosted Support for the 1965 Voting Rights Act

Dais Johnston

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