National Museum of American History Commemorates Voting Rights March with Special Display

March 20, 2005

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will mark the 40th anniversary of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery March and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with a special showcase. The display, “Selma to Montgomery: The 40th Anniversary of the Voting Rights March” will open March 21. The case and public programs are made possible by a generous gift from Paul Peck. 

In the early 1960s, voting rights discrimination against African Americans was widespread in Southern states. Through the use of literacy tests, taxes, residency requirements, intimidation, force and violence by local and state officials, blacks were prevented from registering to vote. In 1965, civil rights organizations wanted to bring national attention to their struggle and decided to organize a march in Alabama where many of these injustices were occurring. 

The first march on March 7, 1965, often called “Bloody Sunday,” was met with violence from the state and local police. The second attempt two days later, led by Martin Luther King Jr., was stopped with a court order. Finally, on March 21, approximately 3,200 people began marching from Selma. Five days later more than 25,000 marchers arrived in Montgomery. This demonstration and increased political pressure led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson. 

The items featured in the display include an overcoat worn by march leader Rev. Hosea Williams on the day of the first attempted march, shoes worn by a woman during the entire 54-mile trek, and a voting rights manual presented to election examiners sent to Southern states to register voters and supervise elections. 

The National Museum of American History is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W. and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at or call (202) 633-1000 or (202) 357-1729 (TTY).