More than 25,000 people gathered in Montgomery, Alabama 45 years ago on this date to protest racial discrimination—the culmination of a month of hardships many now refer to as the turning point for the Civil Rights Movement.
Several hundred marchers had just completed the 54 mile trek from Selma as part of the historic Alabama Freedom March. The New York Times captured the moment with a front page story, mostly centered on Dr. King’s address to the crowd:
He referred to the tumultuous events at Selma in the last two months, during which time the voting-rights campaign that he began there turned into a general protest against racial injustice, with two men dead and scores injured.
“Yet Selma, Alabama, has become a shining moment in the conscience of man,” he said. “If the worst in American life lurked in the dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it.”
“The confrontation of good and evil compressed in the tiny community of Selma, generated the massive power that turned the whole nation to a new course,” he said.
“Alabama has tried to nurture and defend evil, but the evil is choking to death in the dusty roads and streets of this state.”
Dr. King spoke with passion, and the thousands sitting in the street beneath him responded with repeated outbursts of approval.
Several times he urged his followers to continue their support of nonviolent demonstrations, with the aim of achieving understanding with the white community.
“Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man,” he said, “but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society that can live with its conscience.”
He ended his address with a peroration on the theme, “How long must justice by crucified and truth buried?” a spirited quotation of a verse of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and finally a burst of “Glory, hallelujah,” repeated four times.
The crowd rose to its feet in one great surge, and the applause and cheering reverberated through the Capitol grounds.