|“||How in Christ's sake does Malcolm X slip into my state?||„|
|~ George Wallace|
|“||Mr. President, malcontents are disrupting Alabama and it's your responsibility to stop them.||„|
|~ Wallace talking to President Johnson|
After Dr. Martin Luther King accepts his Nobel Peace Prize, four black girls are killed in a church in Birmingham, Alabama 16th Street Baptist Church by a bomb set by the Ku Klux Klan and Annie Lee Cooper attempts to register to vote in Selma, Alabama but is prevented by the white registrar. King meets with Lyndon B. Johnson and asks for federal legislation to allow black citizens to register to vote unencumbered, and the president responds that he has more important projects.
King travels to Selma with Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, James Orange, and Diane Nash. James Bevel greets them, and other SCLC activists appear, King, other SCLC leaders, and black Selma residents march to the registration office to register. After a confrontation in front of the courthouse, a shoving match occurs as the police go into the crowd. Cooper fights back, knocking Sheriff Jim Clark to the ground, leading to the arrest of Cooper, King, and others.
Alabama Governor George Wallace speaks out against the movement. Wallace and Al Lingo decide to use force at an upcoming night march in Marion, Alabama, using state troopers to assault the marchers. A group of protesters runs into a restaurant to hide, but troopers rush in, beat and shoot Jimmie Lee Jackson. King and Bevel meet with Cager Lee, Jackson's grandfather, at the morgue. King speaks to ask people to continue to fight for their rights.
As the Selma to Montgomery march is about to begin, King talks to Andrew Young about canceling it, but Young convinces King to persevere. The marchers cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge and approach a line of state troopers and Alabama white citizens, the troopers put on gas masks and order the marchers to turn back, and when they hold their ground the troopers attack with clubs, horses, tear gas, and other weapons. The attack is shown on national television as the wounded are treated at Brown Chapel, the movement's headquarter church.
Movement attorney Fred Gray asks federal Judge Frank Minis Johnson to let the march go forward. President Johnson demands that King and Wallace stop their actions, and sends John Doar to convince King to postpone the next march. White Americans arrive to join the second march, they cross the bridge again and see the state troopers lined up, but the troopers turn aside to let them pass. King, after praying, turns around and leads the group away. That evening, two of the white activists are beaten to death by a white mob on a street in Selma.
Judge Johnson allows the march. Wallace meets with President Johnson and tries to convince him to act against the movement but President Johnson ignores Wallace requests and tells him to think of his legacy, Johnson then speaks before a Joint Session of Congressto ask for quick passage of a bill to eliminate restrictions on voting, praising the courage of the activists. The march on the highway to Montgomery takes place, and, when the marchers reach Montgomery, King delivers a speech on the steps of the State Capitol as Wallace watches from his office in defeat.
- Tim Roth grew up during the Civil Rights Era. He said he remembers George Wallace, thought of him as a "monster," and was "amazed at what was coming out of his mouth."
- During their White House meeting, President Lyndon B. Johnson implores Alabama governor George Wallace to consider his future legacy, saying, "George, you and I shouldn't be thinking about 1965, we should be thinking about 1985." Lyndon B. Johnsondied in 1973. In 1985, George Wallace was still alive, and two years into his fourth and final term as Alabama governor.