Behind the Mission: The Story of The 54th Mile Policing Project

Photo credit: Reggie Allen

Why Walk 54 Miles?

On February 18, 1965, Alabama State Troopers fatally shot an unarmed African American civil rights activist, Jimmie Lee Jackson. A champion for equal voting rights, Jackson died protecting his mother, who was attacked by police during a demonstration in Marion, AL.

In response to Jackson's death, local civil rights leaders organized a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery – intending to take their cause directly to Governor George Wallace in the state’s capital.
Led by 25-year-old activist John Lewis, on March 7, 1965, over 600 demonstrators began this march through Selma’s downtown but were blocked by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

When the marchers refused to yield, the troopers brutally attacked demonstrators using tear gas, nightsticks, and other means of violence. Television cameras captured the confrontation, giving Americans a front-row seat to “Bloody Sunday.” Marchers, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were again blocked by police two days later as they crossed the bridge.

It wasn't until March 25th, 1965, that Dr. King and the 25,000 marchers with him could complete their march to the Alabama State Capitol Building and Governor Wallace's office.

These events spurred the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Edmund Pettus Bridge remains a powerful landmark for the Civil Rights Movement.

The Experience of the 54th Mile Co-Founders

In the summer of 2020, three police leaders, Assistant Chief Tarrick McGuire, Chief Shon Barnes, and Dr. Obed Magny, retraced the steps of the historic 54-mile civil rights march by walking from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. In April 2023, these men sat down with the Office of Justice Program’s Justice Today Podcast to discuss their journey and the work it inspired.

The Justice Today Episode on the 54th Mile Policing Project

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Blog Post from the Bureau of Justice Assistance

Headline for a blog post on the 54th Mile Project

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