SELMA MARCHES Early in 1965, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and a number of other civil rights organizations decided to dramatize the denial of black voting rights in Alabama by marching from Selma to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery, a distance of fifty-four miles. Led by Martin Luther King, the first attempt to stage the protest was broken up on March 7 by Alabama state troopers using night-sticks, tear gas and whips. The troopers, it was reported, were merely enforcing Governor George Wallace's order banning the demonstration. The fact that seventeen marchers were hospitalized and scores of others less seriously injured catapulted Selma into the national headlines. President Lyndon Johnson publicly stated that he deplored "the brutality with which a number of Negro citizens of Alabama were treated when they sought to dramatize their deep and sincere interest in attaining the precious right to vote."
The Selma to Montgomery Freedom March was again scheduled for March 21. President Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard to protect the demonstrators, who safely completed the trek to Montgomery on March 25. Three days later, Dr. King appeared on national television to urge Americans to boycott Alabama produced goods and to demand a withdrawal of federal support of activities in that state. King's speech, together with the Selma incident itself, did much to ensure the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.