Bloody Sundayby Senator Harry Reid
Posted on 2013-03-07
REID. Mr. President, forty-eight years ago today, a young man by
the name of John Lewis set out on a march across Alabama, from Selma to
Montgomery. By his side were a few hundred
freedom-loving men and women calling for an end to discrimination
violence against African Americans.
Today, John Lewis is a distinguished member of the U.S. House of Representatives, but back then when he was a young civil rights leader, he was determined to fight injustice and force the United States to live up to its founding principle that all people are created equal.
I had the good fortune to go--not this year but a year or two ago-- down to Selma and participate in this reenactment. John Lewis was there, as I saw on TV a few days ago. It was a cold day when I went there, and you saw them all bundled a few days ago. And on the day of the march, you see the TV pictures of John Lewis with a long coat, and he had a backpack. I asked him what was in the backpack. He said, I thought I would be arrested and I would be put in jail. I had in that backpack an apple and a book I was reading.
After being viciously beaten, John Lewis doesn't know what happened to his apple, his book, or his backpack. But what a legend he has become. He wasn't arrested that day. Instead, John and the peaceful protesters by his side were met a few blocks into their march by State troopers with dogs, fire hoses, and clubs, and they used every one of them against these marchers. Many of the marchers, including John Lewis, were viciously beaten.
The terrible violence of that day, known as Bloody Sunday, was broadcast across the country. For the first time the bloody reality of the struggle for equal rights was beamed into America's living rooms. Bloody Sunday marked the turning point in the civil rights movement as Americans cried out against the injustice and bloodshed they saw on the television screens.
Later that month protesters finally completed that march from Selma to Montgomery, and more than 25,000 patriots converged on the Alabama State Capitol Building. From the steps of the Alabama capitol, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of the power of peaceful resistance. This is what he said: Selma, Alabama, became a shining moment in the conscience of man. If the worst in American life lurked in its dark street, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it.
Six months later President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and that is where Senator Thurmond, whom I had the good fortune of serving with here, took to the floor and gave that speech for 24 hours.
I may disagree with Strom Thurmond, but he had a right to talk. Rand Paul had a right to talk.
The Supreme Court last week considered striking sections of the law barring areas with a history of discrimination from changing voting practices without Federal approval. That is what the Voting Rights Act was all about. Critics say those protections are no longer necessary. But anyone who waited hours to cast a ballot in 2012 knows that is not true. A 102-year-old woman waited 8 hours to vote. And anyone who has watched the State legislature pass laws designed to intimidate eligible voters and keep the poor, minorities, and the elderly from the polls knows the fight for freedom is not over.
America has made great strides to eradicate racism, thanks to legends such as John Lewis. But, together, we must guard that progress with vigilance, keeping in mind the sacrifices made by so many 48 years ago today.