The Bloody Sunday was commemorated in Selma on Sunday, enjoying the participation of top US political heads, including Congress representatives and US President Barack Obama. The event marks the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, in which civil rights activists demanded equal voting rights.
The Congressional Pilgrimage started in Montgomery Saturday morning, consisting of more than a hundred Congress members and top US officials. The atmosphere was very friendly and detached, but it was no easy task for the Congressmen to walk in the footsteps of John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr., who made the same walk half a century ago in their march for voting rights.
It was a long drive, and some of the representatives who actually had the chance to meet Martin Luther King relished the opportunity to recall “how good a listener King was,” as Democratic Jim Clyburn told the press. The Ferguson incident – when the police shot dead a teenager in controversial circumstances – was still fresh in Clyburn’s memory, and he felt necessary to underline there are still a lot of things to do. “This cannot be the United States of America,” he said referring to the Ferguson case.
The final destination of the pilgrimage was Edmund Pettus Bridge, where civil rights supporters gathered on March 7, 1965 and were attacked by police. It was also where President Obama was expected to make a speech. The president was scarce on policy discussions, his main objective being to honor the civil rights heroes that fought for race equality fifty years ago.
Behind the 100 Congress representatives, Obama was joined by his family and by ex-US president George W. Bush. When talking about Selma, the president described it as a place “where this nation’s destiny has been decided.” “In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history — the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher — met on this bridge,” Obama said before naming John Lewis, who took part in the march in 1965, one of his “heroes”, in front of an audience of roughly 40,000 people.
It was an opportunity for Obama, the first black US President, to urge America to keep going forward in its march against racism and discrimination of any kind. Referring to the Justice Department’s report on Ferguson, he described the incident not as “endemic”, but rather as a proof that fighting discrimination against voters must continue. The president criticized southern states new voting laws (like showing picture ID), that mostly threaten to affect minority voters.
The anniversary also gave the chance for the city of Selma to honor the late President Lyndon B. Johnson. During his tenure at the White House, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed, and his daughter Luci Baines Johnson accepted the award on behalf of her father. Like all others present at the event, she was convinced that “what happened in Selma changed the world.”
Image Source: SeattlePI