North and South, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Civil Rights
activists campaigned for laws preventing discrimination in education,
employment, housing and voting rights. In 1963, the effort to
register voters in Alabama intensified. Black citizens who tried
to register encountered great obstacles - poll taxes, literacy
tests and lengthy questionnaires. They were subjected to intimidation
and threatened with the loss of jobs, bodily harm and death.
Martin Luther King, Jr., and other national leaders, including
Malcolm X, had stopped in Selma, Alabama, as they had in other
Deep South communities, to show their support for voter campaigns.
Protesters attempted to call national attention to local violations
and, in February 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson, a protester from
Marion, Alabama, was killed. In Jackson's memory, Selma protesters
planned a 50-mile march from Selma
to Montgomery, the state capital.
The march was scheduled for Sunday, March 7, 1965. But, Dr. King was called to Washington to meet with President Lyndon Johnson. That Sunday, about 600 marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, spanning the Alabama River. Selma's sheriff and 200 troopers and deputies, some on horseback, were waiting on the other side. When marchers refused to turn back, the officers attacked, using tear gas, bullwhips and clubs. One of those marchers was eight-year-old
Sheyann Webb. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized on that "Bloody Sunday."
Television brought this event into the living rooms of a shocked nation. In the next few weeks, thousands of people converged on Selma to aid the voter registration drive. On March 21, the Selma-to-Montgomery march began again, this time with federal protection. One historian-activist has said that this march turned out to be "the last traditional, major march of the southern movement." Five months later, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, the most comprehensive legislation ever to protect every citizen's right to vote.
Voting Rights Timeline
1789 Ratification of the U.S. Constitution; first elections held
1807 Women lose the right to vote in all states
1830 Most states have abolished property and religious voting tests
1838 Kentucky reintroduces women's suffrage for widows
1855 Blacks can vote in only 5 states
1870 15th Amendment enfranchises black males
1876 Black voters in the South denied participation
1889 Wyoming allows women full voting rights
1915 Grandfather Clause used to disenfranchise black males declared unconstitutional
1920 19th Amendment gives women the right to vote
1924 Indian Citizenship Act provided for suffrage for Native Americans
1944 "White Primary" declared unconstitutional
1961 23rd Amendment gives vote to citizens of Washington, DC
1962 New Mexico was the last state to extend the right to vote to Native Americans
1964 24th Amendment abolishes the poll tax for federal elections
1965 Voting Rights Act outlaws literacy tests and sends federal registrars to the South
1971 26th Amendment gives 18-20-year-olds the right to vote
1975 Amended Voting Rights Act enables poor speakers of English to participate in the political process
1993 National Voter Registration Act makes registration more uniform and accessible ("Motor Voter")