King's powerful speech at the 1963 March on Washington and his ability to draw national attention to the violent confrontations between the civil rights activists and racist authorities, made him the most prominent African-American civil rights spokesperson of the first half of the 1960s. At the end of 1963, Time magazine named King the "Man of the Year." A year later, in December 1964, King traveled to Oslo to receive the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
At the same time, the government and the FBI grew increasingly wary of King's dominant position and sought ways to damage his reputation. The FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, and many other observers of the southern struggle saw King as an agitator of events, but he was actually a moderating force within an increasingly militant black movement of the mid-1960s.
While the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom and the subsequant passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 signaled a successful step towards desegregation and equality, the situation in the Deep South continued to be marked by racial intimidation and violence. In the summer of 1964, the Council of Federated Organizations, (COFO) which was a Mississippi coalition of the NAACP, SNCC, CORE and other civil rights organizations, launched a volunteer campaign to register as many African-American voters as possible and to win political rights for them. The Freedom Summer project brought together over a thousand, mostly white college students who volunteered to prepare the help black voters to register. Recognizing that Mississippi's all-white Democratic Party wouldn't accept black members, COFO helped form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MDFP) as an alternative. During the summer of 1964, COFO members worked with white volunteers to register thousands of prospective voters in the new party. The MFDP sent its elected delegates to the national Democratic convention, challenging the right of the all-white Mississippi Democratic Party's delegation to participate in the convention and to rightfully represent the state of Mississippi. The MDFP did not succeed in being officially recognized and left the convention without reaching a compromise.
The demands for political representation and voting rights for African-Americans continued to grow and became once again sharply visible during the Voting Rights Campaign in Selma, Alabama. In January 1965, the Dallas County Voters League invited King and SCLC to join SNCC and other local African American activists. The campaign was marked by repeated marches to voter registration offices and escalating clashes between demonstrators and police, leading to mass arrests by the end of February. While King was in jail, Malcolm X, came to Selma as part of his outreach to the movement. While Malcolm supported the voting rights campaign, he questioned King's nonviolent approach, suggesting that African Americans should demand their rights "by any means necessary." On February 21, 1965, just a few weeks after his visit to Selma, Malcolm X was assassinated in Manhattan.
During March 1965, multiple marches took place in Selma. The first march took place on March 7, with over six-hundred participants. When the unarmed marchers passed over the county line, police and state troopers attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas. Law enforcers beat many marchers unconscious, and the media publicized pictures of wounded people on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The march and the brutal events of that day became known as Bloody Sunday.
The second march took place on March 9. Once again, law enforcement and marchers confronted each other at the bridge. King, this time present at the march, however, decided to turn around and lead the marchers back to Brown Chapel Church in Selma. King was obeying a federal injunction while seeking protection from federal court for the march. That same night, a group of white men attacked and murdered civil rights activist James Reeb, a minister from Boston, who had come to Selma to march.
The violence of "Bloody Sunday" and Reeb's murder led to national outrage. The protesters demanded protection for the Selma marchers and a new federal voting rights law to enable African Americans to register and vote without harassment. On March 15, in a nationally televised address, President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress for the introduction and passage of the voting rights bill.