FBI Case File #44-28492: Bloody Sunday

Today’s blog was written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

The movie Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay and released in January 2015, brought to life the struggle for voting rights in America. This Academy Award nominated film, which starred David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Lorraine Toussaint, Wendell Pierce, and Stephan James gave a remarkable account on the events surrounding the historic marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Just in time to commemorate these events, the National Archives has released FBI case file #44-28492 in the series Classification 44 (Civil Rights) Headquarters Case Files, 1924-1978 (NAID 2329984). This series contains correspondence, memorandums, photographs, newspaper clippings, reports, transcripts, and telegrams relating to the attack on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Last week’s blog, Record of the Week: Selma, Edmund Pettus Bridge FBI Case File by Netisha Currie, introduced some of the documents that can be found in this case file.

The above images are of FBI surveillance taken by Special Agent Thomas E. Burns of white demonstrators on March 6, 1965, approaching the Dallas County Courthouse. The images also showed a group of white men attempting to overturn a car where a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) took refuge.

On Sunday morning, March 7th, nearly 500 people met after church to begin the 54 mile march to Montgomery, Alabama. Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and John Lewis of SNCC led a march to protest the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson and bring attention to the need for federal voting rights legislation. The protesters made it to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, just outside of Selma when they were ordered to disperse by about 150 white police troopers. The marchers refused to stop and were badly beaten by police and white onlookers.

The above images taken by Special Agent Joseph M. Avignone, showed black protesters organizing at the Brown’s Chapel, their march through Selma, and the attack on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The above teletype was to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and described the role of the Dallas County Sheriff’s office in the tear-gassing of marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The teletype also detailed the attack on Amelia Boynton and called her the “power behind the Dallas County Voters League” in Selma.

This memorandum dated March 10, 1965, to Mr. Belmont from A. Rosen criticized the violent actions of troopers against the protesters with no provocation. The memo gave detailed information on the events that occurred on Bloody Sunday.

The persistence of the protesters and the violence and murders associated with the marches from Selma to Montgomery caused President Lyndon B. Johnson to take action. Public support for the marchers forced Congress to act on voting rights legislation. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6th.

To obtain a copy of this file, please contact our FOIA office.

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