On this day in 1965, an estimated 600 voting and civil rights activists began a 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capitol of Montgomery in protest of the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was fatally shot three weeks prior by a state trooper while trying to protect his mother at a civil rights demonstration.
After the group reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, over the Alabama River, they were met by a hostile front of state troopers and deputies armed with tear gas and billy clubs. The state officials ordered the protesters to turn around and head back to Selma, but they refused. Officers then unleashed the tear gas and viciously beat many of the protesters. Over 50 people were hospitalized.
The event would come to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” Civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would help organize subsequent marches to the state capitol. Finally, after two failed attempts, an estimated 25,000 protesters under the protection of a U.S. National Guard convoy arrived peacefully in Montgomery on March 25, 1965. The Selma marches gave way to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, on August 6, which guaranteed every American the right to register to vote.