Civil Rights and Protests

Race Riots

What was Bloody Sunday and when did it occur?

“Bloody Sunday” was the name given to the date March 5, 1965, because of the violence directed toward civil rights demonstrators during an attempted march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The purpose of the march was to protest against police brutality and the denial of voting rights; it was a continuation of earlier civil rights efforts in the Selma area that began in 1963. Participants included key leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, such as John Lewis and Hosea Williams, as well as many unsung heroes from the local community and outside supporters. Martin Luther King Jr. had been in the Selma area on several previous occasions, enduring arrest and physical as well as verbal attacks, including death threats; he decided not to participate in the march. Alabama’s white leaders, including Governor George Wallace, were committed to preventing the march from being successful. Wallace issued an injunction in support of efforts to stop the march.

When the approximately six hundred marchers left Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, they were met at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge by a large group of Alabama state troopers, many on horseback and wearing gas masks. They were joined by other groups of white men whom Sheriff Jim Clark had “deputized,” some bearing large clubs and waving Confederate flags. News reporters, photographers, and cameramen, as well as a small group of blacks, were present to observe the event.

Before Hosea Williams and John Lewis could stop the marchers, they were attacked with clubs and tear gas. Lewis was among the many who were wounded as a result of the attack, which continued as the marchers retreated in the direction of the church. The violence was recorded by the media and received international news coverage.

Alabama police officers confront demonstrators during 1965’s Bloody Sunday.


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