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March in Alabama can be a beautiful month with warm days, cool nights, flowers bursting from the ground with vibrant yellows, reds, and violets, and greens everywhere. Jonquils push through the ground like horns resounding with the song of spring and forsythia adorns itself ingold.1 March can also fulfill the proverb “comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb.” Alabama’s March of 1965 offered cold, wet, windy weather up until the end. But a different wind blew through Selma that month—the wind of discontent and change.

For the first three months of 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), had conducted a voter registration drive in central Alabama’s Black Belt counties. King sought to expose voting barriers in this part of the South as a means of eliminating them nation-wide through federal legislation.2 Press coverage would be vital, focusing attention on the problem he sought to correct.

Settlers originally called the counties bordering the Alabama River the Black Belt because the rich limestone soil had become dark loam through the centuries. But the name also assumed an ethnological meaning; a majority of inhabitants descended from slaves who once worked its antebellum plantations. In 1965, those land-holdings still dotted the countryside, and many features of the old order still flourished. Contrasts also marked the region: majestic homes and ramshackle shanties, opulence and poverty, white and black, played against the endless sweep of cotton fields. In the midst of this Black Belt, athwart the Alabama River, sat Dallas County. Selma, on the river’s north bank almost in the center of both county and state, served as the county seat.3

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