Georgia Congressman John Lewis and a host of other Black leaders paused March 7 at the site of the “Bloody Sunday” incident in Selma, Ala., marking the 45th anniversary of a civil rights march which ended in violence.
Lewis was part of the landmark voting rights march in which he and a host of other civil rights marchers were beaten by Alabama state troopers. He praised the original participants, saying they were “heroes.”
The beatings occurred on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965 as the marchers left Selma on foot, headed to Montgomery, Ala. Shortly after they began their trek, the troopers used billy clubs, tear gas and cattle to stop them.
In Washington, D.C., President Obama said that despite all the progress on civil rights and equality that’s been made since “that terrible day in Selma,”—including his ascent to the presidency—more still needs to be done.
Although the march was completed two weeks later, it was done under federal protection and under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. Participants walked 50 miles from the bridge over the Alabama River to the steps of the Capitol building in Montgomery.
In commemoration of the march’s anniversary, a ceremony was held on Sunday, March 7 in Selma. Approximately 10,000 people gathered at the Pettus Bridge, where they recalled the violence that transformed the civil rights movement more than four decades ago by focusing the entire nation on southern violence against civil rights protesters.
The ceremony in Selma was also attended by singer Harry Belafonte, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Lynda Johnson Robb, whose father, President Lyndon Johnson, signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. The legislation, which opened Southern polling booths to Blacks, also ended all-White government.
In comments during the ceremony Lewis reportedly reminded the crowd that while “President Johnson signed that act, it was written by the people of Selma.”
According to the online publication Democracy Now, Joanne Bland, executive director of the National Voting Rights Museum, said the commemorative event and others like it are important because the struggle of Blacks 40 years ago has parallels today.
“We were struggling for the right to vote ,” Bland told the publication. “Today we are still fighting to retain that right.”