Martin Luther King Jr.: 8 peaceful protests that bolstered civil rights

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. believed that nonviolent protest is the most effective weapon against a racist and unjust society. But it required rallying people to his cause. Here are some of the most revolutionary peaceful protests King led.

5. Bloody Sunday, 1965

AP/File
Marchers cross the Alabama River on the Edmund Pettus Bridge at Selma, Ala., on March 21, 1965. The civil rights marchers, eight abreast, were led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This was the start of their five day, 50-mile march to the state capital of Montgomery. They were fighting for voter registration rights for blacks, who were discouraged from registering to vote, particularly in small towns in the South.

Dr. King and several other civil rights leaders organized three marches from Selma, Ala., to the state capital of Montgomery, in a bid for voting rights for all.

The first, on Sunday, March 7, 1965, involved nearly 600 protesters who marched east from Selma on US Highway 80, led by Jon Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Rev. Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King was not present because he had church duties. But days before, King had met with government officials to try to ensure the marchers would not be impeded. Even so, mob and police violence caused the march to be aborted on that "bloody Sunday." When film footage of the police brutality was broadcast around the country, it sparked widespread public outrage and helped to boost support for the civil rights movement.

Of the event, King later wrote, “If I had any idea that the state troopers would use the kind of brutality they did, I would have felt compelled to give up my church duties altogether to lead the line.”

King tried to organize another march, but protesters did not succeed in getting to Montgomery until March 25. The speech he delivered that day, on the steps of the state capitol, has since become known as “How Long, Not Long.”

Bloody Sunday was a turning point for the civil rights movement, building public support and clearly demonstrating King’s strategy of nonviolence. 

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