The eye-opening experience traveling through the South with Baldwin changed Schapiro. “I saw a world which I had not really known about that well, since I was always a New Yorker,” he tells me. “That got me involved and interested in the Civil Rights movement, and I started getting assignments from LIFE and other magazines to follow what was happening. That culminated in the Selma march—and the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
Schapiro had taken photos of King before Selma—in Birmingham, Alabama; and Clarksdale, Mississippi—but his images from the famous 1965 march are especially evocative. Those scenes come from the third and final attempt of Civil Rights activists to travel by foot from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, the state’s capital, in order to push for African-American voting rights. The first attempt on March 7th (in which King had not participated) ended in an outburst of police-orchestrated violence that went down in history as “Bloody Sunday.” A second try two days later—with King in attendance—also ended prematurely, with the Civil Rights leader taking a knee when confronted by armed cops.
A group of over 3,000 people would eventually leave Selma on March 21st, this time protected by National Guard members. It’s this event that Schapiro would help immortalize for LIFE. He photographed marchers, and King, as they made their way some 54 miles to Montgomery; Schapiro carried around four or five different Nikon cameras, allowing him to switch between black-and-white and color film.