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Fifty years ago today, protesters marched on Selma and changed the course of history

Within months, segregation and voter suppression would be illegal.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

Selma 50th Photo Package Source: AP/Press Association Images

THE MARCH FROM Selma to Montgomery, which US President Barack Obama will commemorate today in the southern state of Alabama, was part of the plight to end voting discrimination against African Americans a half century ago.

Obama will deliver remarks at Selma’s famed Edmund Pettus Bridge, where some 600 peaceful voting rights activists were attacked as they marched on March 7, 1965, a day which became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

The first, failed attempt to carry out the march would be followed by another on March 9 and a final successful push on March 21.

The latter two were led by 1964 Nobel Peace prize winner Martin Luther King Jr.

Selma Bridge KKK Leader Source: AP/Press Association Images

These are the events leading up to that day:

- Between 1961 an 1964, young black activists campaigned for voting rights for African Americans in Selma, a small, majority-white town that had largely disenfranchised its African American population from the electoral process. Only two percent of its eligible black voters were registered.

King decided that the town would make an ideal symbol for the larger voting rights cause.

Selma 50th Photo Package Source: AP/Press Association Images

The episode would unfold as Alabama Governor George Wallace, a staunch supporter of segregation, was at the helm of the state. At the end of his life, he would ask for forgiveness from African Americans.

WALLACE CAMPAIGN Source: AP/Press Association Images

- February 1965: Multiple peaceful demonstrations took place across Dallas County, whose seat was the town of Selma.

Jimmie Lee

On February 18, black protester Jimmie Lee Jackson was fatally wounded by a policeman and died. A protest march was called for March 7.

- First March, March 7: Some 600 protesters gathered in Selma, aiming to march 54 miles (87 kilometres) to the state capital of Montgomery.

They were stopped in Selma on the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River, by state troopers and local police who demanded they turn around.

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Selma Bridge KKK Leader Source: AP/Press Association Images

When the protesters refused, the police, including some on horseback, fired tear gas and hit protesters with billy clubs. Multiple people were wounded, although the exact number varies. Images of “Bloody Sunday” were televised, arousing national outrage. King called for a second march on March 9.

- Second march, March 9: King himself led the march, which totaled around 2,000 people, including a number of black and white clergy who had heeded King’s call to action. The group stopped in the middle of the bridge for a moment of reflection, and King turned them around, to avoid any further confrontation.

Hours later, a white pastor, James Reeb, who was attending the march in solidarity with the black protesters, was beaten to death. Amid outrage, demonstrations were held throughout the country. President Lyndon B. Johnson called for an end to violence and promised legislation.

PA-8665068 Source: AP/Press Association Images

- Third march, March 21: Under protection of federal police, 2,000 to 3,000 protesters led by King leftSelma for Montgomery. Their numbers swelled to around 25,000 people by the time they arrived on March 25. Governor Wallace refused see them.

Selma 50th Photo Package Source: AP/Press Association Images

- August 6, 1965: President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act which guaranteed the right to vote to all, prohibiting in particular, reading and writing tests, which had prevented many blacks from voting.

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