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  • Awarding Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers Who Participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or the Final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in March of 1965

    by Senator Nancy Pelosi

    Posted on 2015-02-11

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    PELOSI. I thank the gentlewoman from Alabama, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, for her leadership and for introducing and driving forth this legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the foot soldiers of Selma who fought for African Americans' right to vote. I thank her for the opportunity to speak.

    Mr. Speaker, it is very interesting and moving and inspiring to listen to the debate on this legislation, to hear the majority leader, to hear other Members of the Congress talk about how important what happened at Selma was to our country and what promise it made for the future of our country.

    I would hope that the logical conclusion of that--when we see people who are beaten and, in some instances at that time, killed, fighting for the right to vote--is that we would truly honor them not only with a Gold Medal, as wonderful as that is, but by passing the Voting Rights Act on the floor of the House.

    Today, listening to our colleagues, I am reminded of a day almost a year ago, around March of last year, when we dedicated the statue of Rosa Parks in the Capitol of the United States. How exciting--an African American woman to join the ranks of all those men out there. Many more striving to bring diversity, recognizing the great leadership of Rosa Parks.

    While we were there that very day, dedicating the statue of Rosa Parks, across the street at the Supreme Court they were hearing the arguments on the Voting Rights case. And it seems to me that it would have been so logical for us to be supporting the spirit of the Voting Rights Act.

    Of course the Court acted, and the Congressional Black Caucus took the lead. Many of us stood on the steps while the oral arguments were going on and later came here to dedicate the statue.

    But there seemed to be a total disconnect between those who were speaking in a bipartisan way about Rosa Parks and how important it was to our country and the fact that the Court was going to overturn a piece of the Voting Rights Act, and that we, 1 year later, have done nothing to correct that.

    So while it is beautiful and lovely to hear all of the good words, and it is fabulous for us to be awarding this Gold Medal, frankly, I think that the foot soldiers of Selma bring added luster to the Gold Medal, as we honor them with it.

    As we all know, this marks the 50th anniversary of two exceptional events in American history: the march on Selma and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Fifty years ago, as we all know, thousands of people--students and scholars, homemakers and laborers, members of the clergy--the Greek Orthodox Church was very prominently there, and many other heroes--marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

    Today, the undaunted courage and dignity of the men and women who marched continue to inspire our Nation--in fact, on the floor of the House today. Hopefully that inspiration will rise to a place in this House where we pass the Voting Rights Act.

    The gentleman from Georgia, John Lewis, who was there, has been acclaimed by all of us as a national treasure and a national hero. What an honor it is to serve with him in Congress and to call him ``colleague.'' The journey from Selma to Montgomery is more than 50 miles, but fatigue did not stop the marchers. State troopers used tear gas and nightsticks. Hatred, violence, and injuries did not stop them. Those brave foot soldiers, propelled by their faith in our country to live up to its promise, continued to march because they knew the power of the ballot.

    How proud all of us are, again, to serve in the House alongside Congressman John Lewis, the conscience of the Congress, who was one of the young leaders of the march toward equality and opportunity, toward justice, toward the ballot box.

    The bravery of the Selma marchers summoned this Nation to action. A week after Bloody Sunday, President Lyndon Baines Johnson came to this Chamber--right there--to call on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. And he said at the time: At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was at Appomattox. So it was in Selma, Alabama.

    The courage of 8,000 marchers transformed the bridge into a national symbol of how justice can conquer the status quo. Today, that steel arch bridge over the Alabama River illustrates Dr. King's observation that we all quote all the time: ``The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.'' Today we propose to honor the foot soldiers of the Selma marches with the Congressional Gold Medal and by accepting our own responsibility to keep bending, pulling, and nudging that arc toward justice. One way we can do it is by passing the Voting Rights Act.

    Just to recall, Mr. Speaker, the last time we brought up the Voting Rights Act in 2006-2007, the Senate passed it unanimously. In the House, the vote was 390-33.

    There is bipartisan legislation that has been introduced which can be brought to the floor, passed, and signed into law in time for the Selma anniversary next month. And it certainly must be passed before the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, the 50th anniversary.

    We must do so to push back against the same old stale, dressed-up, and renamed efforts to hamper voting access and hinder progress.

    Today, as we celebrate the foot soldiers--we pay homage, we reach deep inside of us to say how inspired we all were by it and isn't it wonderful--let's look to the now and say: Right now, to honor these people, we must pass the Voting Rights Act again to correct what the Court did.

    So as we pay tribute to the foot soldiers who kept on marching, we move forward from a painful past and march into a brighter, fairer future for everyone.

    Again, I thank the gentlewoman from Alabama, Congresswoman Sewell, for her leadership on this important issue.

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