National Archives Marks 50th Anniversary of Selma March and Voting Rights Act
Press Release · Thursday, August 13, 2015
“From Selma to Montgomery” display includes John Lewis statement to FBI
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, the National Archives presents two special records displays featuring the original Voting Rights Act and original statements from the 1965 Selma March for Voting Rights, also termed “Bloody Sunday.” These displays are free and open to the public at the National Archives Museum.
The National Archives Museum’s “Featured Documents” exhibit is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of The Coca-Cola Company.
The National Archives Museum is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Metro accessible on Yellow or Green lines, Archives/Navy Memorial station. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., daily. Free admission. Additional information on exhibits and programs at the National Archives Museum can be found online.
FEATURED DOCUMENT EXHIBIT: “From Selma to Montgomery”
East Rotunda Gallery, through August 26, 2015
By 1920, voting rights of African American men and women were enshrined in the Constitution through two amendments. Tragically, by that same year many states—including Alabama—had almost entirely prevented African Americans from exercising this right through devices such as the poll tax and through intimidation and violence.
In March 1965, civil rights activists marched from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery, Alabama to protest this denial of the right to vote. The march resulted in some of the most dramatic moments of the civil rights movement. This display features the original statements to the FBI of two march participants: John Lewis and Stella Clark.
In 1963, Amelia Boynton and the Dallas County [Alabama] Voters League (DCVL) joined with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in a voter registration project in Selma. By 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined them. Their efforts were met with great opposition.
On March 7, 1965, civil rights activists attempted a protest march from Selma to Montgomery. That day came to be known as Bloody Sunday due to Alabama state troopers’ attacks on the marchers. Among the wounded were John Lewis of SNCC and 60-year-old Stella Davis. Lewis told the FBI that, “I was hit with a night stick and fell to my knees. When I attempted to get up I was struck a second time.” He was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a fractured skull. In her statement, Davis said she “was near the front of the line of marchers when we had crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge and were met by a line of Alabama State Troopers.” Overcome by tear gas, Davis fell to the ground breaking her wrist.
LANDMARK DOCUMENT DISPLAY: Voting Rights Act of 1964
Records of Rights exhibit, David M. Rubenstein Gallery, through September 16, 2015,
In large part due to the efforts of civil rights activists in Selma and elsewhere, President Lyndon Johnson submitted the Voting Rights Act to Congress. It outlawed discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting. The Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965.
Related online resources
- Pieces of History Prologue blog: “On exhibit: Bloody Sunday.”
- Rediscovering Black History blog: “Record of the Week: Selma, Edmund Pettus Bridge FBI Case File”
- Background on Congress and the Voting Rights Act of 1965
- Lesson Plans and Educational resources on Congress and the Voting Rights Act of 1965
- See background information, hi-res images and a transcript of the Voting Rights Act on the list of 100 Milestone Documents of American history.
See the National Archives “Documented Rights” online exhibit section on civil rights.
The Records of Rights exhibit is free and open to the public, on permanent display in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery of the National Archives Museum. “Records of Rights” uses original documents, photographs, facsimiles, videos, and interactive exhibits to explore how Americans have worked to realize the ideals of freedom enshrined in our nation’s founding documents, and how they debated issues such as citizenship, free speech, voting rights, and equal opportunity. Exploring many stories—and showcasing the drive for civil rights for African Americans, women, and immigrants—the new exhibition chronicles the past and current generations whose efforts to secure equality under the law have shaped the country we live in today. Online at RecordsofRights.org
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