"Bloody Sunday" occurred on March 7, 1965, when 600 civil rights marchers were attacked by state and local police with Billy clubs and tear gas so the march was cancelled. The route taken by the marchers is memorialized as the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail. On March 7, 1965, 525 to 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Highway 80. Discrimination and intimidation had prevented Selma's Black population, roughly half of the city, from registering to vote three weeks earlier. On February 18, 1965, a trooper, Corporal James Bonard Fowler, shot Jimmie Lee Jackson as Jackson tried to protect his mother and grandfather in a café that they fled to while being attacked by troopers during a civil rights demonstration. Jackson died of an infection at Selma's Good Samaritan Hospital eight days later. The marchers hoped to bring notice to the violations of their rights by marching to the state capitol of Montgomery, Ala.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for a march from Selma to Montgomery to ask then-Governor, George Wallace, to protect Black registrants. Wallace denounced the march as a threat to public safety and declared he would take all measures necessary to prevent it. In their first march, led by John Lewis and the Reverend Hosea Williams, they made it only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which was just six blocks away. State troopers and sheriffs from the county police department, some of who were mounted on horseback, awaited the protestors. In the presence of the news media, the police attacked the peaceful demonstrators with Billy clubs, tear gas and bull whips, and drove them back into Selma.
Brutal images of the attack were televised, and this presented people with horrifying visions of peaceful marchers left bloodied and severely injured thereby rousing support for the U.S. civil rights movement. Amelia Boynton Robinson was nearly beaten and gassed to death — her photo appeared on the front page of newspapers and news magazines around the world. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized, leading people to the name that day, "Bloody Sunday." Rosa Parks also marched with them that day.
Immediately after "Bloody Sunday," King, as leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, began organizing a second march to be held on Tuesday, March 9, 1965, calling for people across the country to join him. Hundreds of people, shocked by what they had seen on TV, responded to his call. About 2,500 people marched from Selma to Montgomery for the second time.
To prevent another violent outbreak or opposition from law enforcement, the marchers attempted to gain a court order that would prohibit the police from interfering. Instead of issuing the court order, Federal District Court Judge Frank Minis Johnson issued a restraining order, preventing the march from taking place until he could hold additional hearings later in the week. Rather than abiding by the court order, the SCLC decided to hold a partial, "ceremonial" march, since hundreds of marchers had gathered for the event. The group did not want to alienate one of the few southern judges who gave them the court order and who was often sympathetic to their cause.
Finally, a third march was organized and the protest was successful in demonstrating the problems with discrimination, segregation and racism.
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