“If you see something that is not right … you have a moral obligation” to act

Fifty years ago, the city of Selma, Alabama, took center stage in the American civil rights movement.

A major goal of the movement had been securing voting rights that were granted under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Despite that federal requirement, some states and local jurisdictions had created legal hurdles that made it difficult for African Americans to cast their ballots.

On March 7, 1965, some 600 people set out to march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery in support of voting rights. They were forcibly stopped by police as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge out of Selma.

“If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” — Representative John Lewis

The marchers didn’t give up. Led by Martin Luther King Jr., they made the 87-kilometer journey by foot two weeks later. By the time they reached Montgomery, their number had grown to 25,000. That demonstration helped create the political will to pass the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

U.S. Representative John Lewis, one of the leaders of the first march, suffered a fractured skull on “Bloody Sunday.” He looks back with pride at what the activists accomplished. “I don’t think as a group we had any idea that our marching feet would have such an impact 50 years later,” Lewis said in a recent television interview.

President Obama plans to join Lewis and others in Selma to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the marches. The recently released movie Selma depicts the events surrounding the marches.