The Alabama Freedom March began on this date in 1965. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King (books by this author) and 3,200 demonstrators set off on a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to protest the disenfranchisement of black voters. They had tried to set off on this march twice before; the first time, state troopers and deputies attacked them with clubs, whips, and tear gas. The second time, they were turned back by a human barricade of state troopers at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. On March 10, the Justice Department filed suit in Montgomery to block the troopers from punishing the protestors. President Lyndon Johnson, in a special address, said: “Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”
The judge ruled in favor of the marchers, but Alabama governor George Wallace complained that deploying the Alabama National Guard to protect the marchers would be too expensive. He appealed to Johnson for help. Johnson signed an executive order to federalize the Alabama National Guard, and deployed them to protect Dr. King and the other civil rights protestors on their march.
The marchers traveled about 12 miles a day, and slept in the fields at night. By the time they reached Montgomery on March 25, their numbers had swelled to 25,000. King gave an address from the steps of the state capitol. He said: “The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.”
President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — which prohibits racial discrimination in voting — in August, less than five months after the Selma march.