Fifty-two years ago today civil rights activists, led by John Lewis, marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to demand the right to vote, only to be dragged to the ground and brutally beaten by white Alabama state troopers. The blood that flowed is how the day became known as Bloody Sunday.
The Selma to Montgomery marches of March 1965 were in part sparked by the tragic death of civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson the month before. Jackson was fatally shot by a white Alabama state trooper after participating in a demonstration calling for the release of James Orange who had been arrested for enlisting minors to participate in voter registration drives in Alabama.
At the time of the Selma campaign, less than one percent of eligible black voters in Montgomery County were registered to vote. Black voters seeking to gain access to the ballot box were blocked by discriminatory literacy tests and poll taxes. Those who sought to organize were intimidated by white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens’ Council.