Artist Jacob Lawrence’s powerful Confrontation at the Bridgedepicts the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights that would enable African Americans to register and vote without harassment.
Lawrence uses strong colors and expressive composition to highlight the strength and courage of the peaceful African-American marchers. They dominate the image with their forward movement. The unarmed marchers were confronted on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by state troopers who violently attacked and beat them. Lawrence clearly shows a mood of violence by the snarling dog, the dark sky, and the marchers’ worried faces. His choice to not show any state troopers is important and we know they are right there, just outside of the image. He focuses the artwork on the brave act of the African-American marchers who are taking (dangerous) action for their future.
The Selma to Montgomery marches were three protest marches in 1965 for voting rights and racial justice. The first march took place on March 7. State troopers and locals attacked the unarmed marchers with billy clubs and tear gas after they passed over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Photos of the beaten and bloodied African-American marchers were seen around the world. The event became known as “Bloody Sunday”. The second march took place March 9. Troopers and marchers confronted each other at the bridge, but Martin Luther King Jr. led the marchers back to Selma. The third march started on March 21 after President Johnson committed to protecting the marchers with 1,900 members of the National Guard and FBI agents. Alabama Governor Wallace refused to do this. Over 25,000 people joined the marchers to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, arriving on March 25. The Voting Rights Act became law on August 6, 1965.
This print was created by Jacob Lawrence when he was commissioned to produce a print to celebrate the United States’ bicentennial in 1976.