An act to enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the
district courts of the United States of America to provide injunctive relief against
discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to
institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public
education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination
in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment
Opportunity, and for other purposes.
Another major turning point took place a little more than a year later, when President Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
An act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United
States and for other purposes.
Even with these major pieces of legislation, the winds of change were slow-moving. Denial of voting rights, before 1965 and after, and the disparity in the country in terms of poverty (which was around 19% at the time) were major reasons for the protests, out of which the march from Selma to Montgomery stemmed. (Currently, the poverty rate in the United States is around 14.5%.)
The march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama's state capital -- sometimes referred to as "the Selma march" or, incorrectly, the march in Selma" -- was inspired by all of the societal issues listed above. What finally kicked it off was the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a deacon in his local Baptist church. While participating in a peaceful civil rights protest on February 18, 1965, which was broken up by police, he was brutally beaten and shot Alabama state troopers. He died eight days later, on February 26.
Another misconception is that March from Selma to Montgomery was a singular march. In fact, there were three attempts made at the approximately fifty-mile trek -- on March 7, March 9, and March 21 -- and we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first march today, which is known as "Bloody Sunday". When the marchers crossed over the Alabama River via the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were stopped by Alabama state troopers, on foot and on horseback, using violence and tear gas to move back and dispel the marchers. The terrible events were televised across the country, which turned much of a divided nation against oppressive factions. The events of March 7, 1965 were immortalized by the Irish rock band U2 in their song 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'.
The events remain strong in some people's minds, but they tend to get lost to the generations as time goes on. The two videos below highlight (first) the marches from Selma to Montgomery and (second) the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech in Montgomery on March 25, 1965.
For the past several years, the free access to vote for all Americans has been under attack. Keeping black Americans from being able to vote freely, as they are guaranteed to have, in the form of voter ID cards, shortened polling place hours, restricting or disallowing early voting, have become more and more prevalent.
It goes beyond voting rights, but that is one of the most glaring examples. The murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice are also part of the larger problem. Musical collaborators Common and John Legend won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for 'Glory' from the film Selma. In their acceptance speech, they put the feeling and the reality of not 1965, but 2015.
Some battles have been fought and won. Turning back the clock must not happen! As we look back at the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, and all that was fought for, I leave you with John Legend and Common performing 'Glory' at this year's Oscars.