On this day 54 years ago, Black civil rights activists took to Selma, Alabama and attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge into the state capitol.
Their march was an act of protest against the racist conditions of city, but not all supported their cause. While marching across the bridge, protestors were assaulted by an angry mob of white citizens, and even the local & state police participated. Attendees of the small march were so brutally beaten, that the day is forever known in American history as “Bloody Sunday.”
To commemorate the 1965 march, where demonstrators were also tear gassed, politicians and civil rights leaders gathered at the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast during the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee. Participants in the ceremony included Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Sherrod Brown, who has not yet declared his candidacy for president. The event also honored Hillary Clinton, with the 2019 International Unity Award. The former senator and secretary of state took to the podium to talk about voter suppression.
The crowd gave her thunderous applause and some stood and clapped after Alabama legislator Henry Sanders said the election was “stolen from her by the FBI who issued that report,” according to ABC News.
Clinton said we are a long way from winning the “fight for women’s rights, civil rights and human rights,” and called it the “unfinished business in this century.”
She said these are frightening times and that we are “living through a full-fledged crisis in our democracy. Clinton added that Americans have a lot of work to do “when racist and and white supremacist views are lifted up in the media and in the White House. When hard-fought-for civil rights are being stripped back.”
Some of the same issues persist as when the demonstrators sought to cross the bridge.
“We know candidates both black and white have lost their races because they have been deprived of the votes they otherwise would have gotten,” Clinton said, referring to voter suppression.
One recent example was in Georgia last year, she said.
“Stacy Abrams should be [the] governor leading that state right now,” she said adding that North Carolina is facing one of the most “brazen schemes of voter fraud.”
“Something is wrong when one party is systematically and deliberately trying to stop trying to stop millions of Americans from voting,” Clinton added, according to ABC News.
In addition to Clinton, several candidates running for president in 2020 spoke about longstanding civil rights issues that need to be addressed.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ran in the democratic primary in 2016, challenging Clinton, congratulated Clinton on her award and took to the podium to discuss automatic voter registration.
Sen. Cory Booker, another Democrat running in the 2020 election for president, used his opportunity to discuss several initiatives that he backs – from gun control to clean water.
“I worry now that we are at a point in our country where we see a moral vandalism that is attacking our ideals and beliefs and eroding the dream of our nation,” Booker said, according to ABC News.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is undecided about running for president but told ABC News he would decide by the end of March, also addressed the breakfast, discussing his previous trips to Selma.
Even though breakfast attendees on Sunday heard from several candidates, some didn’t vibe their messages. Dr. Mae Christian, who told ABC News that she took part in the Bloody Sunday march, said she wasn’t swayed by any of the Democratic candidates.
“I need to find out what these people’s issues are,” Christian said, according to ABC News. “We should have had a place where we came up with resolutions.”
Over the years, Selma has become a place that is frequented often by politicians running for president.
“Everyone runs to Selma to take photos, to do the photo ops,” Tamika Mallory, an activist and co-president of the Women’s March, also said “We have to be able to ask, are you here to really honor that legacy or not? Are you here to honor the legacy, not in the form of photographic memory, but in the form of fighting for the rights of those people who the Selma movement was all about?”
“Don’t just cross the bridge but go do the actual work on behalf of those people who gave their lives in order for us to have the right to vote.”