On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson uses federal authority to call up selected units of the Alabama National Guard. The segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace abdicated his responsibility with his reluctance to spend state funds on protecting Martin Luther King, Jr. and 50,000 demonstrators as they conducted a planned and approved civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.
That morning, President Johnson sent a telegram to Governor Wallace. In it, he stated that “the rights of all American citizens must be protected, I intend to meet your request by providing Federal assistance to perform normal police functions.”
My hope, my expectation, my prayer
Later, during the subsequent news conference, President Johnson added:
“Over the next several days the eyes of the Nation will be upon Alabama, and the eyes of the world will be upon America. It is my prayer, a prayer in which I hope all Americans will join me earnestly today, that the march in Alabama may proceed in a manner honoring our heritage and honoring all for which America stands.
May this, the conduct of all Americans, demonstrate beyond dispute that the true strength of America lies not in arms and not in force and not in the might of the military or in the police, nor in the multitudes of marshals and State troopers but in respect and obedience to law itself.
In other times a great President–President Abraham Lincoln–said that he was confident that we would be touched by the better angels of our nature. That is my hope for you, and my expectation of all of you and my prayer to all of you today.
A nation is molded by the tests that its peoples meet and master. I believe that from the test of these days we shall emerge as a stronger nation, as a more united people, and a more just and decent society.”