U.S. Rep. John Lewis' Firsthand Account of Surviving "Bloody Sunday"

Season 6 Episode 608
Aired on 01/15/2017 | CC tv-pg
On March 7, 1965, 25-year-old John Lewis—then the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and a former Freedom Rider—and the Rev. Hosea Williams set out to lead a 54-mile march through Alabama from Selma to Montgomery to protest the discriminatory practices preventing African-American citizens from voting. Lewis and the marchers had trained diligently for the march, participating in nonviolent workshops and preparing for what they believed would be their inevitable arrests, but the reality of what happened that day was far more violent than many predicted.

While crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, Lewis and the marchers faced a sea of state troopers and a posse of locals determined to stop them. Major John Cloud of the Alabama state troopers demanded that the protestors disband.

Decades later, Lewis, now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, recalls that tense moment—and what happened next. "I said, 'Major, may I have a word?'" Rep. Lewis says. "He said, 'There will be no word.' We saw these men putting on their gas masks. He said, 'Troopers, advance.'"

At the head of the line of marchers, Rep. Lewis was the first to be attacked when the troopers charged, clubbed over the head by a nightstick. In the above video, he recounts the bloody confrontation and his thoughts of certain death amid the violence and chaos that ensued.