SELMA, Alabama – The process was different for this year’s celebration of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, but the spirit was the same.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 56th commemoration of the event was largely virtual. And the event was missing one of its regular attendees – John Lewis. The civil rights icon passed away last year at the age of 80.
But the event still remembers the proceedings of March 7, 1965, when hundreds of civil rights pedestrians crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in an attempt to march to Montgomery in support of voting rights for blacks.
On the east side of the bridge, they were greeted by Alabama soldiers, mounted sheriff’s men and brutally beaten. The images of the day and the national outrage that helped led to the adoption of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. After the massacre on the bridge, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. invited people to come to Selma. Two weeks later, another march began. Then he managed to get to Montgomery.
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President Joe Biden marked the day signing an enforcement order which promotes registration and access to voting. It also orders the heads of federal agencies to give federal officials free time to vote or be non-partisan pollsters, and redesigns the government’s Vote.gov website.
“Every voter with the right to vote should be able to vote and count it,” the president said. “If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let people vote.”
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Prior to the virtual reconstruction of the bridge crossing, speakers participated in the Brown Chapel service. The historic African Methodist Episcopal Church served as the seat and refuge for the Selma movement.
There were speeches by national leaders, gospel songs and songs about freedom were sung, history was looked at and he rejoiced in today’s challenges of racism and efforts to suppress voters.
History brought people together through social media and the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee website, which broadcast events over the weekend, AME Bishop Harry L. Seawright said.
“We salute all the people who crossed that bridge on Sunday,” he said. “It’s just an act of God that no one killed.”
A small group crossed the bridge around noon. The virtual effort included historical footage of the day and quotes from people who were part of the 1965 march. The recording began with Alvin Garrett, a Grammy-nominated artist from Birmingham, singing his song “It Starts in the Heart”.
The song begins with him at the top of the bridge and then moves backwards along the route, back to the Brown Chapel.
Modern aerial footage was used, along with footage of a small group of people in masks walking the route and walking across the bridge. The footage includes a group stopping to kneel and praying in the middle of U.S. Highway 80, near the very spot where the 1965 beatings took place.
Usually 40,000 to 50,000 people come to Selma for commemorations, according to the city and chambers of commerce. Hotel rooms in Selma would be full, and excessive accommodation needs would go to regional cities. Calls to several Selma hotels last week reported about 50 percent capacity.
The icon was missing
However, there was a void. The late John Lewis, a congressman from Georgia and one of the participants in the march that day who suffered serious injuries, was a participant in past commemorations.
“Today marks the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a day when ordinary Americans in my hometown of Selma, Alabama, made extraordinary changes while peacefully demonstrating equal voting rights,” said spokeswoman Terri Sewell, D-Ala, who grew up as a Brown member. Chapel. “Every year we return to the Edmund Pettus Bridge to pay tribute to the heroic victims of these pedestrians, but this year we will do so without my beloved friend, Congressman John Lewis.”
“Although my heart breaks knowing that John will not lead this year’s commemorative march, I hope that we will dedicate ourselves again to his life’s work by restoring the full protection of the Law on Voting Rights. As we have recently seen in state legislations across this nation, voter suppression is alive and well. That is why we need to enact HR 4, the John R. Lewis Suffrage Act, to ensure that all Americans can participate fully in our democracy, ”Sewell said in a statement.
The brutality on the Edmund Pettus Bridge “dedicated a noble fight,” Biden said. He called on Congress to “completely renew” the Law on Voting Rights, which he said was “destroyed” by the US Supreme Court in 2013.
“There has been an attack on the right to vote in state legislatures across the country,” Biden said, citing dozens of states that have introduced laws he says would make it harder for Americans to vote. “We can’t let them succeed.”
“You know you don’t need a lot of money or a million people,” Vice President Kamala Harris said. “But you need a fair goal and a lot of determination. Friends, there is no reason more just than the right to vote. It is a right that unlocks many other rights.”
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