Miles to Vote: From Selma to Montgomery

by Chirag Agarwal

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,”

- Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. is an activist who is known as one of the finest spokespeople in American history. His eloquent voice and words of encouragement enlivened thousands of people to fight against the restriction on African American voting rights - prevalent in a small town called Selma, Alabama, and predominantly in southern states of America.

The paramount goal of King was to procure voting rights especially for African Americans and other minorities who were not allowed to vote.

The Selma to Montgomery movement was a series of civil rights protests that took place to eliminate racist policies against African Americans who were not allowed to vote.

African American congregations and councils closely followed the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi who also peacefully resolved national conflicts.

Councils such as the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) participated in the series of protests. These councils registered black voters who were forbidden to vote in southern states.

The incident which ignited everyone against racism was the explosion that happened at 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama in which four black schoolgirls were dead at the site of the church bombings.

The FBI reported suspects of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The KKK is a white supremacist hate group that targets African Americans, immigrants, homosexuals, Jews, Catholics, and immigrants.

Jimmie Lee Jackson, an African American, was shot fatally by an Alabama state trooper James Bonard Fowler due to a peaceful voting rights protest on February 18, 1965.

The resentment of African Americans led to a massive protest march of 600 people to the state capital of Montgomery, 54 miles away from Selma. The group marched through Edmund Pettus Bridge but were hindered by a vicious attack from Alabama state troopers.

Nonetheless, when the group reached, Major John Cloud told them to return back to their church in two minutes.

Several of them were assaulted by nightsticks, tear gas, and even pummeled by the state troopers on March 7, 1965. This is now known as “Bloody Sunday.”

John Lewis, who was the leader of the first protest, suffered a fractured skull due to the state troopers severely beating him.

Congressman John Lewis awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2011

These outrageous and abysmal actions taken by the government and the troopers were recorded and were seen worldwide. It highlighted the reckless nature of America.

It was a nation that sent its army to protect the men in Vietnam, but it was unable to protect their own citizens living.

Despite the many who were critically injured, King made another arrangement to march through Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 9, 1965.

This time, however, King promulgated their protest through a television broadcast. This led to innumerable masses attending the protest.

People from all races came to participate to trounce racism. More than 2,000 protesters marched, with King being in the lead.

Route 80, through which they were marching, was blockaded with state troops who permitted the protestors to march forward.

King refused to go forward since he viewed it as a maneuver planned by the troops to trap the 2,000 protestors. They opted to go back to their church.

Many of the council members misinterpreted King’s judgment as a cowardly decision. James Reeb, a protestor from Boston, was brutally beaten to death by a nightstick because of his support for blacks.

Blacks were no longer stoical about racism and approached the president of the U.S. to pass the voting rights movement, ensuring eligibility for black voters.

On March 15, Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the nation by saying, “There is no southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem.”

On March 21, 1965, approximately 2000 people started their journey from Selma to Montgomery and were protected by the U.S. Army troops while marching proudly.

This triumphant journey included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s exhilarating speech in front of the capitol where more than 50,000 black and white people were cheering. The black citizens of America waited for decades to finally amend the constitution.

On February 13, 1870, the 15th amendment was added to the constitution.

It stated,

“the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The Voting Rights Act was further passed in August 1965.

Mahatma Gandhi’s movement influenced the whole world with his peaceful yet bold measures. His perseverance and determination to solve intricate national conflicts, manifested itself in the 60s civil rights movement.


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