- 54 miles (86 km)
- One hour to drive or one day to experience the Byway.
- Some museums along route charge fees.
As this All-American Road® winds its way from the streets of Selma, Alabama, through the gentle rolling hills of Lowndes County, and into the state's capital city of Montgomery, you will find yourself transfixed in history. Also designated as a National Historic Trail, this section of U.S. Highway has known many facets of history in its years of existence. However, it wasn't until Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., started leading voting rights demonstrations in Selma early in 1965, culminating with the historic Selma to Montgomery March, that the route became internationally known.
The first Selma march began on March 7, 1965, and came to an abrupt halt at the Edmund Pettus Bridge when scores of local police officers and Alabama state troopers attacked a band of 500 marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. Many marchers were left bloodied and severely injured. On March 9, 1965, Dr. King led a ceremonial march to Edmund Pettus Bridge and held a short prayer session there. After the first failed attempt, three weeks earlier, Dr. King marshaled forces that made their way 54 miles, on March 21, 1965, from the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Montgomery, paving the way towards one of the most important pieces of social legislation of the 20th Century: equal voting rights for all American citizens.
You can relive the Selma to Montgomery March in its entirety. Visit the First Baptist Church and Brown Chapel -- the churches that housed much of the civil rights movement effort in Dallas County. See the jail where civil rights activists were imprisoned for their protests. Cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge where marchers faced physical opposition. In culmination, at the end of the march in Montgomery, walk on the steps of the capitol, where King delivered his speech "How Long, Not Long" to a crowd of nearly 30,000 people. The reminiscent journey is sure to be a stirring one, especially because the actual march took place such a short time ago. For an overview of the struggle for equal voting rights, visit the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma. The museum is filled with first-hand accounts and testimonials of the march. These 25,000 marches were moments in time that eventually helped bring access to the ballot box to many African Americans in Southern states.
For a tangible experience of the past, head to Selma today. To gain an appreciation for what people have done to ensure liberty and justice, visit the Selma to Montgomery March Byway.
Points of Interest
Points of Interest Along The Way
Alabama State Capitol Building (AL)
Built in 1851, and then, in 1861, serving as the site of the first capitol of the Confederacy, the capitol reflects 140 years of shifting tastes in architecture and furnishings. Historic Senate Chamber, House of Representatives, old Supreme Court Chamber, and original governor's office have been restored to Civil War-era appearance.
The steps of the capitol served as the culminating point of the Selma to Montgomery March. Here, March 25, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed a crowd of near 30,000. A 20-member committee, appointed by King, then presented a list of grievances to Governor George Wallce. In response, within five months of the march, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, assuring equal voting rights to all Americans.
The capitol building is located at One Dexter Ave. in Montgomery, the terminus of the byway.
Brown Chapel (AL)
Organized by freedmen after the Civil War in 1866, the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church was the first A.M.E. church in the state. Brown Chapel served as the headquarters for the Voting Rights Movement and later as the starting point for the historic Selma to Montgomery March.
The Brown Chapel, A.M.E. Church is located at 410 Martin Luther King Jr. Street.
City of St. Jude Historic District (AL)
Founded during the mid-1930s when segregation was the norm in the Southeast, the City of St. Jude Hospital pioneered nondiscriminatory health, education, and social services.
On March 24, 1965, voting rights marchers camped in the St. Jude Historic District, on the athletic field. It would be their last night on their path to the capital. That night the athletic field became a stage for a marchers' rally and a show by famous musicians and entertainers. It was the site of the March Great Concert.
Designed by Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam Memorial,the Civil Rights Memorial honors the martyrs of the Civil RightsMovement through a stunning black granite outdoor exhibit,accessible all day, all year.
The plaza is a contemplative area -- a place to remember theCivil Rights Movement and its impact, to honor those killed as aresult of the struggle, to appreciate how far America has come inits quest for equality, and to consider how far it has to go.
Edmund Pettus Bridge (AL)
Edmund Winston Pettus Bridge became a symbol of the momentous changes taking place in Alabama, America, and the world. It was here that voting rights marchers were violently confronted by law enforcement personnel on March 7, 1965. The day became known as Bloody Sunday.
The march resumed on Sunday March 21, with court protection through Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., who weighed the right of mobility against the right to march and ruled in favor of the demonstrators. "The law is clear that the right to petition one's government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups...," said Judge Johnson, "and these rights may be exercised by marching, even along public highways."
This time, 3,200, versus the initial 600, marches headed east out of Selma, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and on to Montgomery. Marches walked 12 miles a day and slept in fields. By the time they reached the capitol on Thursday, March 25, they were 25,000-strong. Less than five months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- the best possible redress of grievances.
Located on Highway 80 at the intersection of Broad Street and Water Avenue between the communities of Selma and Montgomery.
First Baptist Church (AL)
The First (Colored) Baptist Church has a rich history.Constructed in 1845, the church initially served white and Blackpopulations. Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the white congregation bought out the claims of the blacks who then constructed a new church house on St. Phillips Street. In 1894 the congregation built the church house that is still used today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Street.
During segregation, the church served as a meeting place forAfrican Americans. School graduations, concerts, and other culturalactivities were held here. Home demonstration agents, set upthrough the Agriculture Department, worked with struggling share croppers and taught them how to can goods and perform otherself-sufficient practices.
During the Civil Rights Movement, the church came to be known as the Voting Church or Movement Church. In 1963 under the leadership of Reverend M.C. Cleveland, the church became the first in the city to open its doors for activities and meetings of the Dallas County Voters League. Mr. Boyton was the president of the league, and the group met in the church's basement. During the next two years, the church was a focal point of the mass meetings and non-violent teaching sessions sponsored by the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee, and in late 1964, meetings were held in the church to plan the mass rallies and demonstrations of early 1965 which culminated in the Selma-to-Montgomery March. During the early months of 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headquartered in Brown's Chapel half a block away, spoke nightly to the youth gathered at First Baptist Church.
On January 2, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. visited the church.He gave two speeches that night -- one at the First Baptist Churchand another at the Brown Chapel. At the First Baptist Church,King spoke to a younger crowd -- to the people leading the CivilRights Movement. He then spoke to an older crowd down at the BrownChurch. Truly the First Baptist Church was a hub for civilrights activities
Today the church is on the National Registry of Historic Places and was actually the first Civil Rights Movement building to be put on theregister.
In 1978, the church was struck by a tornado; the congregation is currently attempting to restore the church to its original appearance.
In the state capital of Alabama you'll find a town that is swimming in culture and history. The Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 started here. One Civil Rights battle ended in Montgomery, as the terminus to the Selma to Montgomery March, the march for equal voting rights.
The National Voting Rights Museum commemorates the struggle byAfrican Americans, and white sympathizers, to gain voting rights, astruggle that lasted from the beginnings of the nation through theextension of the Voting Rights Act in 1982 by President Reagan.
"Most of the pivotal events pertaining to modern-day VotingRights issues happened in Selma," said Joanne Bland, Director andco-founder of the NVRMI, which opened in 1992.
The museum features various theme rooms that powerfullyhighlight different aspects of the movement for equality. It's astruggle that shouldn't be forgotten.
Old Depot Museum (AL)
This interpretive history museum is housed in an 1891 railway depot. On display are artifacts from history, from the American Indian residence of the area through the Voting Rights era. There is a Civil War room, Black Heritage wing, and military room.
Forty-five minutes west of Montgomery, you'll find the largest historic district in Alabama. It has over 1,200 historical structures, including antebellum and Victorian homes. Buildings that once housed cotton and Civil War munitions now are home to specialty shops and cafes. Enjoy visiting landmark sites of the nation's Voting Rights Movement. Visit the same places where Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of others fought for their rights, despite racism, prejudice, and violent opposition.