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Using Primary Sources in the Classroom

Civil Rights Movement Unit:
Lesson 4: Marching for Justice - Selma to Montgomery

1. Background information for teachers:
Despite a succession of federal court rulings designed to open the polls to African Americans in the 1960s, black Alabamians in huge numbers were not registered to vote due to the power of local voter registrars to erect obstacles. The problem was particularly acute in the Black Belt of the state, where whites feared losing political control when the black majority population gained the franchise. Selma, in the heart of the Black Belt, became a focus for black registration drives in the early 1960s and, in 1965, was chosen by African American Civil Rights leaders as the site from which to launch a march on Montgomery, the state capital, to dramatize the plight of the disfranchised.

 

The march of a few hundred protesters began on March 7, 1965. Governor George Wallace ordered local and state law enforcement personnel to block the march at the Edmund Pettus Bridge spanning the Alabama River on the way out of Selma. The resulting spectacle of uniformed law officers attacking peaceful demonstrators was witnessed by a horrified American public as "Bloody Sunday" on the nightly news. The "Selma to Montgomery March" was begun anew on March 21, with the marchers' ranks swelled by supporters from across the nation, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who had been involved in the Selma protests since January but had not been there on "Bloody Sunday." Some 3,200 marchers left Selma on March 21st and as many as 25,000 took part in the final stretch up Montgomery's Dexter Avenue to the state Capitol four days later.

 

Emotions aroused over the events in Selma galvanized the U.S. Congress to pass, and President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to supply federal overseers in the local voter registration process.

 

2. Learning objectives:
Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:

 

1. Identify primary and secondary sources.
2. Discuss the differences and similarities in time perspective concerning a historical event.

 

3. Suggested activity:

1. Make copies of Documents 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 for each student.

 

2. Discuss the differences between primary and secondary sources.

 

3. Have the students read Documents 1, 2, 3 and 4.

 

4. Ask the students the following questions:
    a. What was the purpose of the march from Selma to Montgomery?
    b. Why was the federal judge involved in the march?
    c. What was the purpose of the resolution from the Alabama State Senate?
    d. Why was the National Guard put on alert?
5. Ask the students to read Document 5.

 

6. On a sheet of paper, ask the students to compare and contrast the original newspaper accounts of the march with the description of the march after ten years.

 

7. Have the students discuss current activities held to commemorate the Selma to Montgomery March.

 

DOCUMENTS:
Document 1. "Birmingham News article 03/24/65," Alabama Department of Archives and History Public Information Subject Files - General Files, Civil Rights - Selma to Montgomery March, SG6948, folder 406, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 2. "Alabama Journal article 03/23/65," Alabama Department of Archives and History Public Information Subject Files - General Files, Civil Rights - Selma to Montgomery March, SG6948, folder 406, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 3. "Alabama Senate Joint Resolution No. 28, 03/19/65," Alabama Department of Archives and History Public Information Subject Files - General Files, Civil Rights - Selma to Montgomery March, SG6948, folder 406, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 4. "Birmingham News article 03/22/65, Alabama Department of Archives and History Public Information Subject Files - General Files, Civil Rights - Selma to Montgomery March, SG6948, folder 406, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 5. "Mobile Press article 03/02/75," Alabama Department of Archives and History Public Information Subject Files - General Files, Civil Rights - Selma to Montgomery March, SG6948, folder 406, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Additional photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March from the Alabama Sovereignty Commission, Administrative files.