“They oughta be comin’ pretty soon now,” somebody said, looking west and into the sun where the two-lane highway curves to the right. “They oughta be here any time.” (Saturday Evening Post)
Folks lined the 54-miles of roadway between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. Thousands of others joined the march.
There were actually three marches, collectively called the Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery. A catalyst was the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson, who, while attempting to protect his mother from the troopers’ billy clubs while attending a voting rights rally, was shot point blank by two of the troopers. Seven days later, on February 25, 1965, Jackson died from his gunshot wounds.
The first march (March 7) was known as “Bloody Sunday,” as a result of the beatings upon marchers by state troopers and the local posse on horseback. The second march, the following Tuesday, resulted in 2,500 protesters being turned back after attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge (“Turnaround Tuesday.”)
The third march started after receiving a court order granting them the right to protest without police interference, and with protection from federalized National Guard troops.
The marchers arrived in Montgomery on March 24; that night, a “Stars for Freedom” rally was held. Singers Harry Belafonte; Peter, Paul and Mary; Tony Bennett; and comedian Sammy Davis Jr. entertained the marchers.
At the final leg of the march, 25,000 people gathered at the steps of the Alabama State Capitol Building, on Thursday, March 25, 1965.
The marchers were protesting the hostile conditions, discrimination, and unequal rights to vote, adequate housing and education. One of the leaders said this was not a show, but a war against the social structure of America.
They came from everywhere. Charles Campbell, a Negro high-school teacher, came from Hawaiʻi where, he said, there is proof that the races can live together. (Saturday Evening Post)
Campbell and other Hawaiʻi marchers were not this event’s only ties to Hawaiʻi.
Lead marcher in the third march was Dr Martin Luther King. A photo and caption of the event noted, “During part of the famous Selma to Montgomery Freedom March in 1965, Martin Luther King and fellow civil rights leaders wore the Hawaiian necklace of flowers – the lei – to symbolize their peaceful intentions.” (AkakaFoundation)
The lei were gifts from Rev Abraham Akaka as noted in this excerpt from Jet Magazine, “… Pastor emeritus of a Honolulu Church (Kawaiahaʻo,) Rev Abraham Akaka, 74, gained worldwide attention when he sent flower leis used by Dr Martin Luther King in the Selma march …” (Jet, June 3, 1991)
This wasn’t King’s only tie to Hawaiʻi.
King came to Hawaiʻi a month after statehood and on Thursday, September 17, 1959 delivered a speech to the Hawaiʻi House of Representatives at its 1959 First Special Session. His remarks included the following.
“As I think of the struggle that we are engaged in in the South land, we look to you for inspiration and as a noble example, where you have already accomplished in the area of racial harmony and racial justice, what we are struggling to accomplish in other sections of the country …”
“… and you can never know what it means to those of us caught for the moment in the tragic and often dark midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, to come to a place where we see the glowing daybreak of freedom and dignity and racial justice.”
“And these are the things that we must be concerned about – we must be concerned about because we love America and we are out to free not only the Negro. This is not our struggle today to free 17,000,000 Negroes. It’s bigger than that. We are seeking to free the soul of America. Segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro.”
“We are to free all men, all races and all groups. This is our responsibility and this is our challenge, and we look to this great new state in our Union as the example and as the inspiration.”
“As we move on in this realm, let us move on with the faith that this problem can be solved, and that it will be solved, believing firmly that all reality hinges on moral foundations, and we are struggling for what is right, and we are destined to win.”
At Selma, King delivered the speech “How Long, Not Long.” “The end we seek,” King told the crowd, “is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. … I know you are asking today, How long will it take? I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long.”
The Selma to Montgomery March effected great change; it led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, signed by President Lyndon B Johnson on August 6, 1965.