Obama, Selma to mark 50th anniversary of historic civil rights march

By Andrew V. Pestano  |  March 6, 2015 at 7:18 AM
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SELMA, Ala., March 6 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama will deliver a speech at the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March.

Obama has credited events of that day as part of the history that brought him to the White House as the nation's first African-American president.

He will be joined at the commemoration by former President George W. Bush and a congressional delegation of 95.

They will mark a pivotal moment in civil rights history.

On March 6, 1965, former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, who denied voting rights to African Americans in the state, announced he would not let the five-day, 54-mile long march carry on.

"There will be no march between Selma and Montgomery," Wallace said, citing possible traffic violations. He ordered highway patrol chief Col. Al Lingo to "use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march."

The Rev. Andrew Young, an aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "We're going ahead."

"We don't intend to be pushed around or intimidated," Young said. "If they try to bully us, we'll have to stand our ground and refuse to cooperate."

Coverage of the events from United Press International archives detail the march.

SELMA, Ala., March 7, 1965 (UPI) - State troopers and mounted deputies bombarded 600 Negroes with tear gas Sunday when they knelt to pray on a bridge, then attacked them with clubs. Troopers and possemen, under orders from Gov. George C. Wallace to stop the Negro "walk for freedom" to Montgomery, chased the marchers nearly a mile through town, clubbing them as they ran.

About 67 people suffered injuries, some ranging from possible skull fractures to broken arms and legs. Many more suffered gas burns. The day is known as Bloody Sunday.

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson condemned police brutality against the demonstrators in Alabama, urging for law and order to be observed by both sides.

"I am certain Americans everywhere join in deploring the brutality with which a number of Negro citizens of Alabama were treated when they sought to dramatize their deep and sincere interest in attaining the precious right to vote," Johnson said.

King made a last-minute decision not to attend the initial march due to Wallace's orders, but said he was unaware of the "brutality and tragic expression of man's inhumanity to man" that would take place that day.

"As a matter of conscience and in an attempt to arouse the deeper concern of this nation over the evils that are perpetrated against Negro citizens in Alabama," King said. "I am compelled ... to lead a renewed march from Selma to Montgomery on Tuesday ... in spite of the dangers."

That Tuesday, a federal court issued an order barring the scheduled mass march on the Alabama capital, but African-American leaders said they would go ahead with the demonstration.

They sang "We Shall Overcome," putting one foot after another in a slow but steady march that brought them closer and closer to a phalanx of heavily armed state troopers.

On March 22, after undeniable struggles with courts for assembly approval and police brutality and intimidation, King and 300 civil rights demonstrators trooped down Jefferson Davis Highway with airplanes sweeping overhead and U.S. Army troops standing by to protect the demonstrators.

On March 25, the final day, about 25,000 people joined the march and descended on Montgomery.

"The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience," King said on the steps of the capitol in Montgomery. "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.''

The Voting Rights Act prohibiting racial discrimination at the polls was signed into law by President Johnson on Aug. 6, 1965.

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