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1965: Police attack Alabama marchers

State troopers and volunteer officers in the southern US state of Alabama have broken up a demonstration of black and white civil rights protesters, injuring at least 50 people.

They assaulted a group of about 500 demonstrators using tear gas, whips and sticks after Governor George Wallace ordered the planned march from Selma to the state capital Montgomery to be halted on the grounds of public safety.

At least 10 of the injured have been taken to hospital with skull and limb fractures and suffering the effects of tear gas.

They were stopped by 200 police this morning at the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they were heading east out of Selma on US Route 80.


"Next time we march we may have to keep going when we get to Montgomery. We may have to on to Washington"

John Lewis, march organiser

When they refused to turn back the state troopers, some on horseback, attacked in full view of photographers and journalists.

As they were pushed back to the Browns Chapel Methodist Church area, some protesters threw bricks and bottles at police but were chased into their homes by troopers wielding sticks, riot guns, pistols and tear gas bombs.

The streets were patrolled for an hour after the violence had subsided.

Among the injured was John Lewis, the chairman of the Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC), who along with Hosea Williams, led the silent marchers from the Browns Chapel Church towards the outskirts of town.

He told the New York Times: "Next time we march we may have to keep going when we get to Montgomery. We may have to on to Washington."

One of the doctors at Selma's Good Samaritan Hospital said it looked as if there had been "a moderate disaster".

Another hospital official said most of the injuries had been sustained by heavy blows.

FBI agents will be interviewing the wounded and other witnesses tomorrow to establish if there are grounds for legal action against the officers involved.

The protest march had been planned to highlight discriminatory practices in the state that prevented black people from registering to vote.

It was also meant to commemorate the death on 17 February of Jimmie Lee Jackson who was shot by a state trooper on a civil rights march in Selma.

There is widespread outrage at events in the city.

Congressman William Ryan of New York said the Federal Government should send marshals, or even troops down to Alabama to protect the marchers.

But Governor Wallace remains steadfast in his views saying: "These folks in Selma have made this a seven-day-a-week job but we can't give one inch. We're going to enforce state laws."

In Context
Since 1963 Selma had been the focus of civil rights activists attempting to register black voters in Dallas County, Alabama.

Demonstrations in January and February 1965 tried to highlight violations of existing voting rights laws. On the orders of Sheriff James Clark and with the support of Governor George Wallace, the protests were forcefully broken up - resulting in the death of activist Jimmy Lee Jackson.

The violent scenes in Selma on 7 March, which left 17 people in hospital, came to be known as Bloody Sunday.

Civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King organised another march there two days later. His group knelt and prayed in front of state troopers who stopped them at the Edmund Pettus Bridge but did not attack them.

Dr King filed a federal lawsuit for the right to march on Montgomery and on 21 March began the third and final march under the protection of federal troops. He and his supporters arrived a week later and held a rally attended by thousands.

President Lyndon B Johnson finally signed a new Voting Rights Act in August 1965 that banned discrimination in voting practices and procedures on the grounds of race or colour.


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