What Was the Purpose of the Selma to Montgomery Marches?

The marches from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 were made in an effort to draw attention to the need for a Voting Right Act to protect the voting rights of black voters in the South.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), was the organizer behind the march to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery in March 1965. Despite the recent passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black voters in the South still faced serious racial discrimination and barriers to voting.

Black voters who attempted to register to vote were often subjected to fierce resistance, including physical and other types of intimidation. The goal of the marches to Montgomery was to lead the voter registration campaign and raise awareness of the continued difficulty faced by black Americans wo wished to register to vote. Governor George Wallace was one of the most prominent opponents of the recently enacted desegregation law; as a result, only 300 of Selma's 15,000 eligible black voters had been able to register to vote.

The push for black voter registration led to inflamed racial tensions, with King's non-violent protesters drawing violent responses from white segregationists. The first march was organized as a direct response to the fatal shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young black demonstrator who was killed by an Alabama State Trooper. That march began on March 7, 1965, and was quickly interrupted by Alabama State Troopers that beat the demonstrators back to Selma.

The scene was captured by television cameras and inspired nationwide support for the protests. The event became known as Bloody Sunday. Dr. King led several more marches towards Montgomery, finally succeeding under the protection of U.S. Army troops and federalized Alabama National Guardsmen on March 25.