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The Edmund Pettus Bridge spans the Alabama River in Selma, Ala.. The National Park Service unveiled a plaque designating the Edmund Pettus Bridge as a National Historic Landmark on Monday, March 10, 2014, in Selma, Ala. / Lloyd Gallman, Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser

SELMA, Ala. -- Mayors of three historic Alabama cities met Monday to help designate the Edmund Pettus Bridge - the scene of a violent assault by state troopers on peaceful marchers in 1965 - as a national landmark.

The federal honor capped a picture-perfect weekend for Selma, which welcomed thousands of visitors from around the country for the 49th annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

Selma Mayor George Evans was joined by Mayors Todd Strange of Montgomery and William Bell of Birmingham at the unveiling of a plaque explaining the significance of the bridge where the assault - known as "Bloody Sunday" - occurred.

The ceremony was held at a small park just below the Alabama River bridge where cars and trucks rumbled overhead, at times drowning out the speakers.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis noted that the Edmund Pettus Bridge - built in 1940 and named for a former Confederate general and future U.S. Senator - was not much more than a "little-known" river crossing in the American South - until March 7, 1965.

That was the day a large contingent of Alabama State Troopers, under orders from then-Gov. George C. Wallace to stop the marchers, set upon 600 black activists who were marching to Montgomery to protest for easier access to ballot boxes around Alabama.

It was a violent assault on defenseless men, women and children who were scattered by tear gas, clubs and horses ridden by the Dallas County sheriff's posse under the direction of segregationist sheriff Jim Clark.

Millions of Americans watching film of the assault that night on television were horrified and angered, which influenced Congress into passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In his remarks, Jarvis said the peaceful protest that had been scattered by law enforcement officers became "a watershed event in the civil rights movement."

"The violence of 'Bloody Sunday' did not stop the marchers from their ultimate destination," Jarvis said. "In fact, it sped the country toward one of the most important pieces of civil laws ever passed by the U.S. Congress."

Federal court orders issued by U.S. District Judge Frank Johnson allowed the march to continue two weeks later, and Wallace watched from an office window as 25,000 marchers walked up Dexter Avenue to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver one of his most famous speeches.

Part of the federal government's actions included creation of the Selma-to-Montgomery Historic Trail, which has been taking shape with interpretive centers, sites where rest stops existed along the 1965 march route and other features.

Jarvis said the bridge which was built in 1940 now carries "some of the same echoes you can hear at places like the Lincoln Memorial and Independence Hall."

Officials indicated that the National Historic Landmark designation can now be used as a vehicle to secure federal funds for much-needed projects in Selma.

The ceremony also included comments from U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, who grew up in Selma but now lives in Birmingham, where she represents the sprawling 7th Congressional District.

Sewell and other district officials are now looking ahead to the golden anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" and its aftermath next year.

"Selma has a lot of burdens on it, and I know the whole world will be watching when we embark on the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March," she said.

Strange said the Capital City is preparing to spend "close to $10 million" to spruce up Dexter Avenue to welcome next year's marchers.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: 'Bloody Sunday' bridge now a national landmark

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