Fifty-seven years after “Bloody Sunday,” the fight for voting rights continues. Each year people flock to Selma, Ala. to commemorate the brutal attack on March 7, 1965.
“Selma Marchers sacrificed everything when they braved the violence of #BloodySunday,” tweeted the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “It’s in their honor that we cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge once again. Our democracy is sacred, and today it’s more important than ever that we stand up for justice.”
While many focus solely on the day known as “Bloody Sunday,” there was an entire history of grassroots organizing long before the nation turned its attention toward Selma. An organizing timeline on the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s website puts that work in context.
There were a series of marches and organizing efforts before the Selma to Montgomery marches, including a night march in Marion, Ala. Civil rights organizer Jimmy Lee Jackson was shot in the stomach by a state trooper and died a week later.
Jackson’s death is noted as being a catalyst for the Selma to Montgomery marches.
Sunday also marks the anniversary of the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court decision. The case decided 165 years ago denied American citizenship to descendants of enslaved Africans. And even though Congress would go on to pass the 13th Amendment, Black people in this country have never experienced the full promise of the rights outlined in the Constitution.
Despite the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, along with the various civil rights acts, we still need to fight for basic measures of equity and justice. And the racist notion of “states rights” continues to undermine Black people’s access to the ballot box and threaten the general welfare and domestic tranquility.
Last month, the Supreme Court upheld an Alabama map that advocates say was created to dilute Black voting power.
Members of President Biden’s cabinet will join Vice President Kamala Harris at the annual event. In his statement, Biden called voting the “most fundamental” right. It remains to be seen how Biden and party leaders will mobilize in the coming midterm elections to expand the Senate majority and political will to take action on voting rights and other vital issues.
While the president remains committed to passing legislation to “protect the right to vote and uphold the integrity of our elections,” the political will in the Senate to remove barriers such as the filibuster remains lacking. Elected officials like Sen. Joe Manchin can wax poetically about taking action and protecting democracy abroad, but their lack of commitment to systemically disenfranchised voters is telling.
But the president says he will continue promoting voter participation through an executive order announced last fall, and where possible, the Department of Justice pursues enforcement actions.
The fight for equity and justice is not simply a cute photo op and moment of nostalgia. The bloodshed and lives lost coupled with the decades of attacks require action.
Advocates remain inspired by the legacy of civil rights organizers, including those lost in the past few years. As previously reported by NewsOne, groups like Black Voters Matter planned events around the Bloody Sunday commemoration but are calling for renewed attention to passing voting rights legislation.
“We should not still be fighting this fight – but we will if we have to because we who believe in freedom shall not rest until it comes,” Cliff Albright, BVM Co-founder and Executive Director, said in a statement.