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Editors' Picks

What LBJ Really Said About Selma

Mar 05, 2015 | 443 videos
Video by Scott Calonico

Fifty years ago, a civil rights march began in Selma, Alabama. Nearly 600 people intended to walk to the state capitol in Montgomery, led by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where they would demand to speak with then-Gov. George Wallace about the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old who was shot by police the previous month. 

The march barely made it out of Selma. When protestors crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, they were ambushed by state troopers. Mounted police charged the protestors on horseback; troopers beat people unconscious; 17 were hospitalized. News of the "Bloody Sunday" attack immediately spread across the country.

The next morning, as filmmaker Scott Calonico recounts in this short documentary, President Lyndon B. Johnson faced a crisis. While he publicly condemned the attack, Johnson was also calling allies and advisors, searching for a political salve to the situation. "They're going to have another march tomorrow, and, as we see it, it's going to go from bad to worse," he warned.

Calonico's film is a fascinating peek at the politics behind a historic moment in American history. In a conversation with Bill Moyers, a White House special assistant, Johnson expresses a shocking disdain for Martin Luther King Jr.'s actions: "I really think we ought to be firm on him myself," he says. "I just think it's outrageous what's on TV. I've been watching it here and it looks like that man is in charge of the country."

This film collects archival material from the LBJ Library, the Miller Center, the Tennessee State Archives, the Internet Archive, and the Library of Congress.

Author: Chris Heller

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About This Series

A curated showcase of short films selected by The Atlantic