John Lewis started working for voting rights in Selma in 1963. He was only 23, but he had grown up going to segregated schools and had been fighting for civil rights since he was 18.
In Selma, Lewis helped Black people try to register to vote. Most of them were turned away, and some were thrown in jail simply for standing in line on the sidewalk. In two years, only 100 people were allowed to register.
In January 1965, some people decided they had had enough. Day after day, hundreds lined up peacefully to register. Police took them to jail, jabbing them with clubs. In jail, they had to sleep on a cement floor with no blankets.
But getting arrested was actually their intention. The protesters wanted to fill Selma’s jails until they made the news. Hopefully, other Americans would notice and join the call for change.
Then, in February, a man named Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot to death by police. He had been trying to protect his grandfather. At Jackson’s funeral, a plan was made. Protesters would march from Selma to Montgomery. To get there, they had to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge.