AP WAS THERE: 50 years ago, MLK led civil rights marches


In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. led several attempts to march from Selma to Montgomery as part of the Selma Voting Rights Movement. The protesters encountered violent opposition from authorities and segregationists. But with federal backing, the demonstrators successfully made the four-day walk, a 50-mile stretch. That year, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which gave African-Americans the right to vote.

Using the style and language of journalists of the era, including a reference to blacks as “Negroes,” AP reporters captured the tension of the marches.

Fifty years after its original publication, The AP is making available excerpts from a series of stories about the marches’ progress.



By Rex Thomas

SELMA, Ala., March 4 (AP) — Negro leaders mobilized their forces today for a 50-mile march to Alabama’s historic State Capitol at Montgomery to dramatize anew their demands for racial equality.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., leaving Selma for another speaking trip after walking four miles in the rain for the burial of a slain Negro laborer, said the long march will start Sunday afternoon.

The question immediately arose whether state troopers would allow the Negroes to walk in mass formation along the highway or would stop them at the outskirts of this west Alabama city.



By Rex Thomas

SELMA, Ala., March 7 (AP) — State troopers hurled tear-gas bombs and wielded nightsticks today to rout several hundred marching Negroes.

With the city still tense as night fell, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said ... that another attempt to march to the Capitol at Montgomery will be made.

He also said he will go into federal court immediately to seek to restrain Gov. George C. Wallace and the state troopers from blocking the second attempt to march the 50 miles.

When the marchers reached the eastern city limits, Maj. John Cloud of the state patrol said:

“Folks, we’re going to give you two minutes to disperse and go back to the church or to go home. If you don’t, we are going to turn you around.”



By Hugh C. Schutte

SELMA, Ala., March 21 (AP) — It was different today, the civil rights march on this sunny afternoon. It had an air of triumph.

Two weeks ago, on another Sunday afternoon, there was another march that started from Selma. The goal was Montgomery.

There the resemblance ends.

Across the (Edmund) Pettus Bridge that day came 650 marchers uncertain of what would happen on the other bank of the swirling Alabama River.

White spectators up and down U.S. Highway 80 jeered and catcalled.

Ahead massed state troopers under orders from Gov. George C. Wallace to use whatever force was necessary to stop the march.

Maj. Jon Cloud of the state police ordered the marchers to disperse. Quickly the troopers charged them with clubs and broke up the demonstration.

When the marchers formed again, the troopers fired tear gas and nausea gas in the crowd, then went to work with their clubs.



By Phil Oramous

MONGOMERY, Ala., March 25 (AP) — The last four miles were the easiest — and the most triumphant.

For 200 of the civil rights supporters who had marched the full 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery, the brisk walk from the muddy campsite to the state capital today was a short trip.

But for them and the thousands of others parading to the symbolic heart of the Confederacy, it was a historic four miles. Never before had Montgomery seen such a parade.

“It’s the most wonderful thing in the world,” said Matthew Kennedy, an elderly Negro disabled veteran.


The Capitol was in sight.

The front lines stopped in front, waiting until all the marchers arrived. The journey from Selma had ended.

“It’s absolutely magnificent,” said Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP.


AP Corporate Archives contributed to this report.