To protect one of America’s most precious liberties, the right to vote, 600 courageous people marched out of Selma, Alabama 58 years ago.
However, their peaceful demonstration on the Edmund Pettus Bridge was met with brutal force.
John Lewis, a young civil rights leader and congressman, was beaten and had his skull fractured when he was 25.
“Those brave marchers were pushed back, but they continued to march forward,” Vice President Kamala Harris stated ahead of the March 5 commemoration ceremony at the foot of the famous bridge.
Harris said the courage of those civil rights marchers and their sacrifice inspired many to join the fight to put an end to poll taxes, literacy tests, and other forms of discrimination that blocked Black Americans’ access to the ballot box.
“They achieved passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, which enshrined critical protections for voting rights in federal law,” the vice president said.
But the Shelby County Supreme Court decision in 2013 undermined the Voting Rights Act, making it more difficult to prevent discrimination. Harris argued that this has led to a renewed attack on the right to vote in the United States in recent years.
“Extremists have worked to dismantle the voting protections that generations of civil rights leaders and advocates fought tirelessly to win,” Harris said.
“They have purged voters from the rolls. They have closed polling places. They have made it a crime to give water to people standing in line.”
Representatives Terri Sewell of Alabama and James Clyburn of South Carolina; NNPA President/CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.; Rev. Jesse Jackson; civil rights leader Charles Mauldin; and Martin Luther King III were among the many dignitaries who attended the annual pilgrimage to the Pettus Bridge.
During the ceremony, President Joe Biden vowed that voting rights remains a top administration priority.
“The right to vote, to have your vote counted is the threshold of democracy and liberty,” Biden said. “This fundamental right remains under assault. A conservative Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act over the years. Since the 2020 election, a wave of states has passed dozens, dozens of anti-voting laws fueled by the big lie.
“We must redouble our efforts and renew our commitment to protecting the freedom to vote. We know that we must get the votes in Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act. I’ve made it clear: I will not let a filibuster obstruct the sacred right to vote.”
Harris said she and Biden have continued to call on Congress to pass federal legislation that protects voting rights, election integrity, and American democracy.
“And we will continue to implement the President’s Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting, which enhances the federal government’s efforts to advance voter participation,” Harris said. “If we are to truly honor the legacy of those who marched in Selma on Bloody Sunday, we must continue to fight to secure and safeguard the freedom to vote.”