American Portraits

Selma-to-Montgomery Marchers: Diligently Crossing the Bridge

In this lesson, students will review the events of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. They will focus on the marchers’ demonstration of diligence. They will achieve the following objectives.

Founding Principles

Civic Virtue image

Civic Virtue

A set of actions and habits necessary for the safe, effective, and mutually beneficial participation in a society.

Civil Discourse image

Civil Discourse

Reasoned and respectful sharing of ideas between individuals is the primary way people influence change in society/government, and is essential to maintain self-government.

Freedom of Speech image

Freedom of Speech

The freedom to express one's opinions without interference from the the government is critical to the maintenance of liberty within a free society.

Liberty image


Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, the government does not have the authority to limit freedom.


The demonstration that ended so violently on Sunday, March 7, 1965, was for a simple cause: the right to vote. Although it was illegal to do so, some southern state and city governments refused to allow African Americans to vote, either through deceptive laws or harassment. In 1965, civil rights organizations focused their efforts on Selma, Alabama. After numerous failed attempts to register black voters there, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) arranged a demonstration to protest the discrimination. They would march to Montgomery, the state capital, and petition for fair voting laws. The first attempt resulted in “Bloody Sunday,” when about seventy of the marchers required medical treatment for their injuries, and 17 of those were hospitalized. Nevertheless, the protestors were determined. They had a right to petition their government and to assemble. They would cross the bridge….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

Why is diligence essential in order to advance freedom?

Virtue Defined

Diligence is intrinsic energy for completing good work.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will review the events of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. They will focus on the marchers’ demonstration of diligence. They will achieve the following objectives.


  • Students will analyze the civil rights marchers’ diligent actions in persisting against many obstacles to call attention to the need for a federal law to protect voter registration.
  • Students will understand why diligence is an essential virtue in their own lives.
  • Students will act diligently in their own lives to protect freedom.


About 600 people slowly marched along U.S. Route 80 through Selma, Alabama. Their feet pounded the ground as their hearts pounded in their chests. They were prepared for the confrontation they expected there. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders had specifically chosen Selma as the focus of their attention for two reasons.

First, only one percent of the eligible African American voters in the city were registered to vote. Second, they expected the routine brutality of Sheriff James Clark to focus the nation’s attention on their protest. The leaders hoped that other areas of the country would be sympathetic to their plight and would support a federal law protecting blacks’ right to vote. The marchers knew they would meet resistance, as they had on every other occasion, but they also knew they must diligently persevere if they were to win protection for the right to vote. The violence they intended to receive was part of their objective; they hoped that the pain they would experience would move a nation to action. Despite knowing that they could face injury or even death, the marchers were not going to back down.

On horseback and on foot below, Alabama state troopers and local law officers waited for the marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Brandishing their billy clubs and equipped with whips and tear gas, the officers called for the group to disperse as the marchers knelt to pray. The tear gas filled the air, the whips and billy clubs struck, the horses trampled people, and the screams rang through the Alabama air. The marchers, adhering to their commitment to nonviolent resistance, retreated from the bridge, but they knew they would return one day.


  • Harassment
  • Civil rights
  • Southern Christian Leadership Conference
  • Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
  • Bloody Sunday
  • Petition
  • Fervently
  • Activist
  • Grievances

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • In what ways did the civil rights marchers in Alabama exercise diligence to enhance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for themselves and others?
  • The marchers knew they would face violence and many other obstacles, yet they risked their safety and health, even their lives in order to call attention to the struggles of African Americans in the South. What did they understand their identity to be and how did that affect their contribution to the civil rights movement?
  • What did the marchers understand their purpose to be in the events of the spring of 1965?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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