Few sites are as iconic to the American Civil Rights movement as the Pettus Bridge. On March 7, 1965, a crowd prepared to march to Montgomery to demonstrate against the murder of a local black activist by police during a demonstration for voting rights. As those activists gathered into a crowd, the news cameras of the media were trained on the bridge and a line of state troopers and their dogs, who proceeded to lay into the nonviolent marchers.
When the scene was broadcast on national television later that night, it marked one of the first times anyone outside the South had witnessed the violent response to non-violent protests. Booted policemen used night sticks and attack dogs on peaceful marchers while whites waving Confederate flags jeered from the sidelines. Shock and outrage was widespread, and support for the movement grew. Martin Luther King arrived swiftly to Selma and after another aborted attempt due to the threat of violence, helped lead what became 8000 people on a four-day, 54-mile march to Montgomery, culminating with a classic speech on the capitol steps. Soon after, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Today the bridge is just that – a bridge over the Alabama River used primarily for vehicular traffic. Check out the local NPS sites for more history and interpretation.