Moment in Time

Selma: The Marches Captured in Stephen Somerstein’s Pictures

The evocative pictures of Stephen Somerstein—of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and the marchers themselves.

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Stephen Somerstein

It took no more than thirty seconds.


Stephen Somerstein, a student at City College in New York City, snuck on stage with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he addressed 25,000 marchers in Montgomery, Alabama. The black-and-white image he captured, Dr. King from directly behind and the seemingly endless crowd in front of him, soon became iconic.


It was 1965 and the whole world was watching. As President Lyndon Johnson enacted new legislation to desegregate the country, the southern state had yet to acknowledge African American’s right to vote. Soon citizens and civil rights leaders planned a peaceful march, from Selma to Montgomery, to bring national attention to the issue at hand. But things didn’t necessarily go as planned.


The first attempt, known as “Bloody Sunday,” resulted in 600 marchers being attacked by state troopers. As the events transpired, Somerstein, who was editor of his college paper, knew history was unfolding before his very eyes and the urgency at which to cover it. So he, along with many other students from the area, hopped on buses and headed down to join the march. By the time he arrived, “Turnaround Tuesday” had already taken place, seeing some 2,500 people march to the site of the previous beatings to pray before turning back (a ban had been placed on the protests). But, throughout the final phase—a 5-day-march to the state capital—Somerstein caught all of the action and pivotal moments of the historic movement. And they can all be seen at his latest exhibition, Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March, now on view at the New York Historical Society.


Here, the iconic image of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to civil rights marchers at end of the Selma to Montgomery march. The image has been used as promotional material for the 2015 award-winning film Selma.

Stephen Somerstein

At the head of the march, nuns, priests, and civil rights leaders can be seen walking in unity.

Stephen Somerstein

Selma marchers pass by a house with people of both races watching.

Stephen Somerstein

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks before a crowd of 25,000 civil rights marchers in front of the state capital building in Montgomery, Alabama.

Stephen Somerstein

Two mothers and their children are seen watching Selma marchers.

Stephen Somerstein

Young civil rights marchers hold American flags as they participate in the movement.

Stephen Somerstein

Federal troops at the march.

Stephen Somerstein

Folk singer Joan Baez was one of many musicians taking part in the march and performing at the capital.

Stephen Somerstein

A multi-generational family watching marchers from a lawn on Route 80, Jefferson Davis Highway, as marchers make their way from Selma to Montgomery.