A year after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Council decided to focus their attention on Selma, Alabama. Of the 15,000 black residents of Selma only 300 were registered to vote. A protest march from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery, was planned. However it ended in bloody violence, when state troopers used whips, nightsticks and tear gas to disperse the crowd at the Edmund Pettis Bridge.
Two days later King attempted another march but was blocked on highway 80 and decided to turn the marchers around. Six days later President Johnson stepped in and on national television pledged his support to the protestors and called for the passage of a new voting rights bill that he would introduce to Congress.
On March 21, 1965, King led the march from Selma to Montgomery under the protection of U.S. Army troops and the Alabama National Guard. They walked continuously for 5 days and covered 54 miles. 50,000 supporters met them when they reached Montgomery. In front of the state capital King spoke to the crowd, “no tide of racism can stop us”.
Background re: MLK, Jr.
The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister, and the most recognized leader of the American Civil Rights Movement until his assassination on April 4, 1968. Throughout his adult life he championed non violent resistance and civil disobedience as means of protest toward Civil Rights abuses, primarily toward African American Citizens. His influence using these techniques carried over to poverty, segregated housing, and Vietnam war issues, and resulted in him being arrested multiple times. He was the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, (SCLC) organizing it, unsuccessfully, in a struggle against segregation in 1962 in Albany, GA. He helped organize the nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. He alienated many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled "Beyond Vietnam". J. Edgar Hoover considered him a radical and made him an object of the FBI's COINTELPRO from 1963 on. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, and reported on them to government officials, and on one occasion mailed King a threatening anonymous letter, which he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.
King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington was rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.