Lawmakers, activists remember civil rights icons to mark ‘Bloody Sunday’

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Lawmakers and activists marked the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala., through a mostly virtual commemoration – the first without the late civil rights leader John Lewis.

The event usually brings thousands to Selma to recognize the 1965 march for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which ended with law enforcement officers brutally beating marchers. Images from the day shook the nation and led to support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This year, advocates honored Lewis, who went on to represent Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for decades in Congress, and three other late civil rights leaders, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the Rev. C.T. Vivian and attorney Bruce Boynton, with wreaths at the bridge. All four died in 2020.

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), Betty Boynton and Martin Luther King III carried the wreaths across the bridge, according to the Selma Times-Journal.  

For the anniversary, speakers made remarks during a service at the African Methodist Episcopal church the Brown Chapel, which acted as a headquarters during the civil rights movement, according to USA Today. A small group, including those who marched in 1965, participated in a reenactment of the bridge crossing while socially distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The virtual event showed video footage from the 1965 day, quoted speakers who were present and featured Birmingham artist Alvin Garrett singing “It Starts in the Heart.”

Sewell, who represents the district including Selma, noted Lewis’s absence in a speech, saying that, “While my heart breaks knowing that John will not lead this year’s commemorative march, my hope is that we will rededicate ourselves to his life’s work by restoring the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.”

“Voter suppression is still alive and well,” she added, according to The Associated Press. “It reminds us that progress is elusive and every generation must fight and fight again.”

The Martin & Coretta King Unity Breakfast was held as a drive-in event this year, where Cliff Albright, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, called for continued support for voter rights, noting “The movement is not over,” according to the AP.

To mark the anniversary, President Biden signed an executive order to protect voter access as Republican legislatures have pushed to restrict voting after the 2020 election. 

“Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have it counted. If you have the best ideas — you have nothing to hide. Let more people vote,” the president said in pre-recorded remarks for the breakfast.

Other current and former officials and lawmakers addressed the event in social media posts, including former President Obama.

“Fifty-six years after Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet over,” he said. “There are more steps to be taken, more bridges to be crossed. And that’s why the Obama Presidential Center is designed to honor the giants who carried us and inspire the next generation to lead us forward.”

Tags Alabama Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Bloody Sunday civil rights Civil Rights Act Civil rights movement David Scott Joe Biden John Lewis Selma Terri Sewell voting rights Voting Rights Act
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