Eyes on the Prize: Bridge to Freedom (1965)

About This Episode

"I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick...I thought I saw death." — John Lewis, SNCC leader

On March 7, 1965 demonstrators begin a 54-mile march in response to activist Jimmie Lee Jackson's murder in Marion, Alabama during a peaceful march. They are protesting both his death, and the unfair state laws and local violence that keep African Americans from voting. Led by Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists John Lewis and Hosea Williams, about 525 peaceful marchers are violently assaulted by state police near the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside Selma.

Television networks broadcast the attacks of "Bloody Sunday" nationwide, creating outrage at the police and sympathy for the marchers. On March 9th, Alabama police turn back a second march, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders. Following a federal judicial review, the march resumes, escorted by the National Guard. On March 25th, 25,000 marchers arrive at the State Capitol building in Montgomery. Soon afterward, U.S. Congress will pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, forcing states to end discriminatory voting practices.

THEN & now > WATCH Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

The award-winning documentary series Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life, and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today.