Obama to visit Selma for 50th anniversary of civil rights marches

U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he works on a literacy project with children during a day of service at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington, in celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in Washington January 19, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Selma, Alabama, in March to recognize the 50th anniversary of historic marches led by activists fighting against segregation and seeking to ensure African Americans' right to vote, a White House official said on Tuesday. Obama will visit the small southern town on March 7 as part of his administration's efforts to highlight the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the official said. The law, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson 50 years ago this August, banned literacy tests and other tactics used in the U.S. South to block racial minorities from voting. The White House official said more details of Obama's trip would be announced later. The 1965 marches from Selma to Alabama's capital of Montgomery were organized by civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. to draw national attention to the disenfranchisement of black voters. Alabama state troopers tried to stop the protests by attacking the marchers with tear gas and clubs. The violent media images from the marches shocked the nation and eventually spurred the Congress to pass the voting rights legislation. The events of March 1965 returned to public attention this year with the release of the movie "Selma," which focuses on King's involvement in the push for voting rights. Obama hosted a screening of the movie on Friday and invited Oprah Winfrey, Common, David Oyelowo and other cast members. He also invited Democratic U.S. Representative John Lewis of Georgia, one of the original marchers who was beaten by Alabama state troopers. (Reporting by Emily Stephenson, editing by G Crosse)