Fifty years ago, several hundred peaceful protesters marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery to underscore the need for Black voting rights.
Demonstrators were brutalized and beaten by White police officers in what has become known as “Bloody Sunday.” This weekend, scores of civil rights leaders, clergy, elected officials, and peaceful demonstrators will converge on Selma to mark the 50th anniversary of the march that helped spark a movement.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) will be there just as he was on March 7, 1965, when he was hit on the head, left bloody and unconscious. He will be accompanied Saturday by President Barack Obama. A second march, organized by local leaders, is scheduled for Sunday.
The event comes at a time when voting rights are once again under attack in the U.S., especially after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. It also comes at a time when protesters have launched an online petition to change the name of the historic bridge, which was named for Edmund Winston Pettus, a Confederate general and U.S. senator who lived in Selma after the Civil War.
“Fifty years ago this week, brave activists embarked upon the Selma to Montgomery March to bring attention to the fight for voting rights,” NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks said in a statement sent to NewsOne.
“The Selma to Montgomery Jubilee is more than a commemorative occasion—ever present in our minds is that voting rights continue to be impinged,” Brooks continued. “And this new assault on voting rights is being ignored by the same lawmakers who are coming to Selma to celebrate the jubilee. Selma is now—and the NAACP will not rest until every American has unfettered access to the ballot box. I stand with NAACP state leadership in demanding that our most vulnerable voters be protected by the law—in every state.”
Lewis said in an interview last month with USA Today that he and U.S. Reps. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and Martha Roby (R-Ala) have assembled what will be the largest congressional delegation participating in the pilgrimage to Selma in its 17-year history. The delegation will participate in a series of civil rights-related events in Birmingham on March 6, Selma and Marion on March 7, and Montgomery on March 8, the report says.
“When President (Bill) Clinton came (in 2000) we had more than 20,000 people,” Lewis said, according to USA Today. “With President Obama, it could be many more. It’s going to be wonderful.”