Bridge Crossing Jubilee

Bridge Crossing Jubilee

Date Observed: Four days including the first weekend in March
Location: Selma, Alabama

The Bridge Crossing Jubilee commemorates "Bloody Sunday" - the brutal halt of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march on March 7, 1965 - and the successful march two weeks later. Held near the anniversary of the historic event, the Jubilee is an annual celebration of the struggles to improve African Americans' voting rights.

Historical Background

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870, declared that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous servitude." African Americans were thus legally entitled to vote. But particularly in the South, after the Civil War, blacks faced huge obstacles when they tried to register to vote or to cast a ballot. White registration boards used every imaginable legal trick to prevent blacks from voting. Registrars would tell blacks that they had arrived on the wrong day or that they would have to take a literacy test. A person might be deemed ineligible because he could not recite the entire U.S. Constitution or just because the board arbitrarily decided the black person was not qualified. Other more brutal measures kept African Americans from voting, such as threats on their lives, loss of jobs, physical attacks, and the inability to pay poll taxes - which were finally outlawed in 1964 with ratification of the 24th Amendment.

Without federal enforcement, the 24th Amendment guaranteeing black voting rights had little effect in the South. In Alabama, very few African Americans were registered to vote because of white intimidation and repression. In one county, 78 percent of the population was black and in another 81 percent was black, but not one African American in either county was registered to vote. The actual voter registration form used in Alabama before 1965 is reproduced on the following three pages. White officials often required blacks to complete this daunting form. During the 1960s, such organizations as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) staged marches to compel the federal government to protect African-American voting rights. Activists also conducted voter registration drives and made numerous attempts to help African Americans vote. Part of that effort in early 1965 took place in Selma, Alabama, with a campaign led by Martin Luther King Jr. King and hundreds of others were arrested (see also Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday). During one demonstration, state troopers fatally shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, a black man who was trying to protect his mother from being beaten by police.

Alabama Voter Registration Form Used Before 1965

APPLICATION FOR REGISTRATION I, ______________________________________ , do hereby apply to the Board of Registrars of _______________________ County, State of Alabama, to register as an elector under the Constitution and laws of the State of Alabama, and do herewith submit answers to the interroratories propounded to me by said board.

____________________________________________________________________________________ (Applicants Full Name)

QUESTIONNAIRE

1. State your name, the date and place of your birth, and your present address _________________________________________________________________________________

2. Are you single or married? ________________ (a) If married, give name, resident and place of birth of your husband or wife, as the case may be: ________________________ _________________________________________________________________________________

3. Give the names of the places, respectively, where you have lived during the last five years; and the name or names by which you have been known during the last five years: _________________________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________________

4. If you are self-employed, state the nature of your business: _______________________ _________________________________________________________________________________ A. If you have been employed, by another during the last five years, State the nature of your employment and the name or names of such employer or employers and his or their addresses: _______________________________________________________________________

5. If you claim that you are a bona fide resident of the State of Alabama, give the date on which you claim to have become such bona fide resident: ____________ (a) When did you become a bona fide resident of _______________ County: ________ (b) When did you become a bona fide resident of _______________ Ward or Precinct ______________________

6. If you intend to change your place of residence prior to the next general election, state the facts: ________________________________________________________________________

7. Have you previously applied for and been denied registration as a voter? _____ (a) If so, give the facts: ____________________________________________________________________

8. Has your name been previously stricken from the list of persons registered? ____________

9. Are you now or have you ever been a dope addict or a habitual drunkard? __________ (A) If you are or have been a dope addict or habitual drunkard, explain as fully as you can: _________________________________________________________________________________

10. Have you ever been legally declared insane? __________________ (a) If so, give details: ________________________________________________________________________________

11. Give a brief statement of the extent of your educaiton and business experience: ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________

12. Have you ever been charged with or convicted of a felony or crime or offense involving moral turpitude? _____________ (a) If so, give the facts: _______________________

13. Have you ever served in the Armed Forces of the United States Government? _____ (a) If so, state when and for approximately how long: _________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________

14. Have you ever been expelled or dishonorable discharged from any school or college or from any branch of the Armed Forces of the United States, or of any other Country? _______________ If so, state facts: __________________________________________________

15. Will you support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alabama? __________________________________________________________

16. Are you now or have you ever bene affiliated wiht any group or organization which advocates the overthrow of the United States Government or the government of any State of the United States by unlawful means? ___________________ (a) If so, state the facts: ________________________________________________________________________________

17. Will you bear arms for your county when called upon it to do so? ______________________ If the answer is no, give reasons: ___________________________________________________

18. Do you believe in free elections and rule by the majority? _____________________________

19. Will you give aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States Government or the Government of the State of Alabama? ______________________________________________

20. Name some of the duties and obligations of citizenship: ______________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________

(A) Do you regard those duties and obligations as having priority over the duties and obligations you owe to any other secular organization when they are in conflict? ___________ ________________________________________________________________________________

21. Give the names and post office addresses of two persons who have present knowledge of your bona fide residence at the place as stated by you: ________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________________ Insert Part III (5) (The following questions shall be answered by the applicant without assistance.)

1. What is the chief executive of Alabama called? Governor

2. Are post offices operated by the state or federal government? Federal Government

3. What is the name of the president of the United States? Lyndon B. Johnson

4. To what national lawmaking body does each state send senators and representatives? Congress

Instructions "A" The applicant will complete the remainder of this questionnaire before a Board member and at his instructions. The Board member shall have the applicant read any one or more of the following excepts from the U. S. Constitution using a duplicate form of this Insert Part III. The Board member shall keep in his possession the application with its inserted Part III and shall mark thereon the words missed in reading by the applicant.

EXCERPTS FROM THE CONSTITUTION

1. "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized."

2. "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed."

3. "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort."

4. "The senators and representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this constitution."

INSTRUCTIONS "B" The Board member shall then have the applicant write several words, or more if necessary to make a judicial determination of his ability to write. The writing shall be placed below so that it becomes a part of the application. If the writing is illegible, the Board member shall write in parentheses beneath the writing the words the applicant was asked to write.

HAVE APPLICANT WRITE HERE, DICTATING WORDS FROM THE CONSTITUTION ____________________________________________________________________________________

Signature of Applicant _______________________________________________________________

Source: Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

The Marches

Protesters planned to march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital, on Sunday, March 7. Since King was out of town, civil rights leaders John Lewis (who was later elected a U.S. representative) and Hosea Williams organized the 50-mile march of 500 participants. At the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River, police met the marchers with clubs, cattle prods, chains, and tear gas. At least 50 marchers were beaten and hospitalized, among them John Lewis, whose skull was fractured.

Television images and newspaper photographs of the attack, which became known as Bloody Sunday, incensed much of the American public, who called on the federal government to stop the police brutality. More activists quickly headed for Selma.

Another march was planned even though a federal judge issued an order to stop it. King, who had come back to Selma, first agreed to lead the marchers across the bridge, but then asked them to turn around and return to Selma because he had never defied a judge's order. Nevertheless, another murder was committed that evening. A white northern minister who was with the demonstrators was killed by a group of Selma whites, which created a wave of protests across the United States - a reaction quite different from the listless public response to Jackson's death.

On March 15, in a televised address, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked Congress to pass a voting rights bill. Afterward he persuaded the federal judge to lift the ban on the Selma marchers. Johnson also gave notice to Alabama Governor George Wallace that federal troops would be on hand for the march from Selma to Montgomery, which began on March 21. By March 25, an estimated 3,200 marchers had arrived in Montgomery. Five months later - in August - the U.S. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which banned literacy tests and provided for federal examiners to register voters and oversee elections in counties where voter eligibility was determined by testing.

Creation of the Observance

Since 1996 the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma has organized the Bridge Crossing Jubilee, which draws more than 50,000 visitors each year. The event serves as an annual reminder of the sacrifices made to improve voting rights, as well as an occasion to gather and honor the original marchers.

Observance

The Jubilee begins with a welcome reception and a mass meeting featuring a keynote speaker. On the following days, events include a remembrance ceremony for martyrs of the voting rights movement, a program urging people to vote, a Miss Jubilee Pageant, a Jubilee Festival with music and storytelling, a black-tie awards dinner, and a bridgecrossing reenactment at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

National leaders who have attended past Jubilees have included Rosa Parks, Congressman John Lewis, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, and former President Bill Clinton (see also Rosa Parks Day).

Contact and Web Site

National Voting Rights Museum & Institute 1012 Water Ave. P.O. Box 1366 Selma, AL 36702 334-418-0800

Further Reading

Christian, Charles M., ed. Black Saga: The African American Experience - A Chronology. Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1999. Horton, James Oliver, and Lois E. Horton, eds. A History of the African American People: The History, Traditions & Culture of African Americans. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1997. Powledge, Fred. Free At Last? The Civil Rights Movement and the People Who Made It. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991. Williams, Juan, with the Eyes on the Prize Production Team. Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. A Companion Volume to the PBS Television Series. Introduction by Julian Bond. New York: Viking Penguin, 1987.

Bridge Crossing Jubilee

First weekend in March
This annual event in Selma, Alabama, commemorates "Bloody Sunday," which occurred on March 7, 1965, when a group of about 525 African-American demonstrators gathered at Browns Chapel to demand the right to vote. They walked six blocks to Broad Street, then across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they were met by more than 50 state troopers and a few dozen possemen on horseback. When the demonstrators refused to turn back, they were brutally beaten. At least 17 were hospitalized, and 40 others received treatment for injuries and the effects of tear gas.
The attack, which was broadcast on national television, caught the attention of millions of Americans and became a symbol of the brutal racism of the South. Two weeks later, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and 3,200 civil rights protesters marched the 49 miles from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery—an event that prompted Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act.
Every year on the first weekend in March, the Bridge Crossing Jubilee commemorates both the bloody confrontation at the Pettus Bridge and the march from Selma to Montgomery that followed. Events include a parade, a Miss Jubilee Pageant, a mock trial, and a commemorative march to the bridge. Every five years, celebrants continue all the way to Montgomery.
CONTACTS:
National VotIng Rights & Museum
1012 Water Ave.
P.O. Box 1366
Selma, AL 36702
334-418-0800; fax: 334-418-0278
www.selmavotingrightsmuseum.org
Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce
912 Selma Ave.
Selma, AL 36701
800-457-3562 or 334-875-7241
www.selmaalabama.com
SOURCES:
AAH-2007, p. 78
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