Between 1961 and 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) held a voter registration campaign in Selma, Alabama, a town known to suppress African American voting.
When their efforts were stymied by local enforcement officials, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), led by Martin Luther King, Jr., pushed Selma into the national spotlight.
On March 7, 1965, 600 civil rights protesters attempted a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, the state capital, to draw attention to the voting rights issue.
Led by Hosea Williams of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC, the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River on their way to Montgomery. There they encountered Alabama state troopers and local police officers who gave them a two-minute warning to stop and turn back. When the protesters refused, the officers tear-gassed and beat them. Over 50 people were hospitalized.
The events became known as “Bloody Sunday” and were televised worldwide.
A few weeks later a march from Selma to Montgomery was completed under federal protection.
In a statement made to the FBI regarding the events of “Bloody Sunday”, John Lewis describes how the marchers were attacked by Alabama State Troopers and how he was hit twice with a nightstick. Lewis’s skull was fractured, but he escaped across the bridge to Brown Chapel, the movement’s headquarter church in Selma. Before Lewis could be taken to the hospital, he appeared before the television cameras calling on President Johnson to intervene in Alabama. Lewis bears scars from the incident on his head that are still visible today.
“I was hit with a night stick and fell to my knees…”
Later that year, on August 6, 1965—partly due to the efforts of civil rights activists in Selma and around the nation—President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. This act attempted to remove barriers faced by African Americans in exercising their constitutional right to vote.
source: us national archives