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Why is Selma, Ala., significant?

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Quick Answer

Selma, Ala., is significant because of its role in the American Civil War and the Civil Rights movement, particularly a series of protest marches. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously led one of these demonstrations.

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Full Answer

Selma played a major role in the Confederate war effort because of its ironworks and foundry as well as railway connections and location on the Alabama River, which allowed it to act as a harbor for ships without being exposed to attacks from the sea. The notorious ironclad CSS Tennessee was built there, and the city was the second-largest manufacturer of weapons for the Confederacy. Consequently, the Union made seizing Selma a priority, and General James H. Wilson defeated Confederate forces led by Nathan B. Forrest at the Battle of Selma in April 1965.

The city again played a pivotal role in history nearly 100 years later when 600 civil rights activists attempted to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to protest Jim Crow laws on March 7, 1965. However, a mix of state troopers and deputized locals attacked the protesters, putting 17 protesters in hospitals and causing 50 more to suffer minor injuries. Known as "Bloody Sunday," the march pushed President Lyndon B. Johnson push for a voting rights bill. More demonstrations were held, including a second march led by King, and on March 21, 3,200 protesters crossed the bridge a third time on a historic march to Montgomery, again lead by King.

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