Selma and the March that changed the history of civil rights in the United States

March of 1965 changed the history of civil rights in the United States. Here are some of the most powerful images that show how the movement has changed from then up to now. After fifty years, there’s still a long way to go.

More than fifty years ago, the first march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, was organised on 7 March 1965, representing a landmark event in the civil rights movement in the United States. A group of 600 people set out from Selma for a non-violent march aimed at asking the right to vote to all African American and the end of racial segregation, which was still present in some states in the South. Those people were attacked by police forces while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, making that day to be remembered as Bloody Sunday.

What is the significance of Selma?

The brutal images portraying violent clashes and injured people became notorious and convinced the then-president Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded John Kennedy after his murder in 1963, to promulgate the Voting Rights Act on 6 August 1965.

What happened in Selma

The march was organised by Martin Luther King Jr., American Baptist minister and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. The clashes didn’t discourage King: he organised two other marches shortly after. The last one, on 25 March 1965, brought together about 25,000 people who marched from Selma to Montgomery, up to the state capitol. There, King delivered one of his most moving speeches: How long? Not long.

Read more: Martin Luther King Jr., biography of the man who changed the civil rights movement forever

Barack Obama’s speech in on Edmund Pettus Bridge

On 7 March 2015, US President Barack Obama delivered – on that bridge – a passionate speech that was described as “powerful” and “poignant” by those journalists who called Obama a great orator. Obama said that despite much advancement towards equality has been made over the past few years, black people are still subjected to discrimination in the United States.

A more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character – requires admitting as much.

Selma, the film

The marches inspired Ava DuVernay’s Selma, 2014 American historical drama film that was nominated for Best Picture and won Best Original Song (Glory by John Legend & Common) at the 87th Academy Awards.

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