In 1965, JACL members joined fellow activists in Selma, Alabama to participate in the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches that led to the passage of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. This act, which outlaws various forms of discrimination in voter registration and at the polls, was prompted in response to the prejudiced actions of Alabama state and local officials and organizations including the Ku Klux Klan. These groups resorted to tactics including literacy tests, economic and legal pressure, and violence in order to block African Americans from registering to vote in the 1950’s and 60’s.
In March of 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King organized and led thousands of activists, including JACL member and former internee Todd Endo, to march from Selma to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery in support of voting rights. The marchers made two attempts to reach Montgomery before finally succeeding on their third try.
On their first attempt on March 7th, the marchers were turned back by Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, with State Troopers beating marchers with nightsticks, firing teargas, and charging the crowd on horseback. Televised images of the violence were broadcast nationwide and seventeen marchers were hospitalized, resulting in the nickname “Bloody Sunday.”
In what would come to be known as “Turnaround Tuesday,” Dr. King led marchers to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 9th in a symbolic protest of the events of “Bloody Sunday.” After a short prayer session on the bridge, Dr. King turned the crowd back to Selma in accordance with a court order that blocked the march until a decision could be reached regarding the constitutionality of the protests.
On March 21st, after the death of activist Reverend James Reeb (a personal acquaintance of Todd Endo) and a court ruling in favor of the marchers’ right to protest, nearly 8,000 people began the 55 mile march to the State Capitol. On March 25th, a group that swelled to over 25,000 reached the steps of the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, where Dr. King delivered his “How Long, Not Long” speech.
After viewing the events of “Bloody Sunday” on television, President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered a bill to Congress on March 15, 1965 intended to prevent racial discrimination in voting. This bill would eventually become the landmark Voting Rights Act, which was signed into law on August 6, 1965.
To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights Marches and recognize the contributions of Todd Endo and his fellow marchers, JACL will be attending the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee from March 7-8, 2015 in Selma, Alabama.