Sunday was Vice President Harris’s first trip to the Alabama town of Selma since the Senate failed to restore the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which paved the way for equal voting rights for African-Americans.
He stood shoulder-to-shoulder with rank-and-file activists from the civil rights movement as they marched across the bridge when white state police attacked Black voting rights protestors attempting to cross on March 7, 1965.
Violence on the Edmund Pettus Bridge — originally named for a Confederate general — stunned the country and fueled support for the Voting Rights Act.
On this “most fundamental right of American citizenship: the freedom to vote,” Harris said, individuals had fought for “honored ground.”
Today, we stand on this bridge at a different moment,” Harris stated to the assembled crowd in his statement. “Once more, we find ourselves torn between two worlds. Between the two extremes. Disappointment and a desire to succeed. We’re still battling for a more ideal union. For example, the ongoing battle for the right to vote is a clear example of this.
An African-American and an Indian-American first-term vice president described how the nonviolent protest of marchers was greeted with overwhelming violence. When the state troopers charged, they were still on their knees. Billy clubs struck as they prayed.”
Young activist John Lewis was one of the peaceful marchers who were beaten and gassed by police. Lewis went on to become a long-serving congressman for the state of Georgia.
Reviving the 1965 Voting Rights Act has been weakened not by hard force, but by sneaky court judgments,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Sunday.
In honor of Lewis, who passed away in 2020, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate in February that was ultimately defeated.
When John Lewis and so many valiant Americans shed their blood in Selma, the noble struggle they were fighting for was made sacred.” Bypassing legislation to defend the right to vote and uphold the integrity of our elections, we will honor that heritage,” Biden said in a statement.
In an attempt to make voting easier for citizens, Democrats are pushing to modernize the landmark law and approve new legislation. In a Supreme Court ruling, the law’s most important clause was struck down.
Among those who attended on Sunday were ladies who had escaped beatings during the 1965 March on Washington. They sat near the platform before of Harris’ address and stated that 57 years ago, having Harrison as vice president seemed impossible.
“That’s why we marched,” said Betty Boynton, the daughter-in-law of Amelia Boynton, a voting rights pioneer.
When these horses suddenly appeared, I was at the very end of the line.” All of a sudden… there was smoke. Oh my gosh. Tear gas was something I had never heard of. Boynton reported seeing people being beaten.
The occasion is being overshadowed, however, by concerns about the potential impact of increased voting restrictions, as stated by Boynton.
They’re now trying to take away our right to vote. In 2022, “I don’t think we’ll have to do it all over again,” Boynton said.
The 90-year-old Selma woman who fled the bridge with her children when she was a new mother during the march is Ora Bell Shannon. While waiting in long lines to register to vote in the predominantly white city before Bloody Sunday, she and other Black individuals were subjected to impossible voter tests and long waits.
‘They knew you wouldn’t pass the test,’ Shannon recalled.
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination in voting, especially in the South, to receive approval from the U.S. Justice Department before changing the way they conduct elections.
Proponents of ending preclearance said it was no longer necessary, even if it had been deemed vital in the 1960s. There are concerns that the absence of preclearance is empowering states to enact more restrictive voting laws.
The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act would reestablish the preclearance requirement and establish national standards for how elections function, such as making Election Day a national holiday and allowing early voting nationally. It would also establish regulations for redistricting criteria.