About 600 marchers left Selma’s Brown Chapel Church on March 7 for the peaceful march to Montgomery. Leaders explained safety procedures and prepared marchers to follow the rules of nonviolent protest. Unlike previous protests, journalists from all over the country covered the event. Cameras focused on John Lewis at the front of the line, then in his twenties and an SNCC leader. Alabama State Troopers met the marchers as they reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The marchers, although scared, stared back at the troopers, who ordered the crowd to leave. Refusing to retreat, the marchers were charged and teargas was unleashed.
The Civil Rights Movement would have been like a bird without wings if it hadn't been for the media."
-John Lewis (African Americans)
The media was hungry for stories and images to captivate audiences. Protesters were interviewed daily. Dr. King realized that the media offered an opportunity to gain support for the movement and emphasized their vulnerability at the hand of violent whites. The movement was boosted while media outlets earned ratings.
By televising the movement into a kind of morality play, Dr. King was able to appeal to people… across the nation, many of whom would join his cause." (African Americans)
Previously, media coverage had not been widespread and southern media did very little for the movement, distorting facts or completely ignoring race issues. "[There was] an astonishing ignorance about the Negro on the part of the white public in the north" (social scientist Gunnar Myrdal). Media coverage of Bloody Sunday changed this.
In a crisis, we must have a sense of drama." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (The Atlantic)
Risking Lives for the Story
Just as protesters faced danger, reporters, photographers, and cameramen also risked their lives. They too were shot at, bombed, beaten, and killed. Two journalists caught in a mob were forced to hide in stores, escaping from angry whites. During the Marion march, in which Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed, reporter Richard Valeriani was hit in the back of the head with the butt of an ax. He was hospitalized, where he proceeded to report for NBC from his hospital bed. Another reporter, James Reeb was walking down a sidewalk when he was beaten to death by KKK members. During Bloody Sunday, photographer James Martin used his camera to shield a blow from a trooper, who then said "Excuse me. I thought you's a n*****."
The world doesn’t know this happened because you didn’t photograph it." Dr. King said to a photographer who was trying to help an injured marcher, "I’m not being cold-blooded about it, but it is so much more important for you to take a picture of us getting beaten up than for you to be another person joining in the fray."