(AP) – More than 5,000 people followed Vice President Joe Biden and black leaders across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., to commemorate the notorious 1965 beating of civil rights marchers, an event that galvanized the civil rights movement and pushed Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act the same year.”
The marchers on Sunday followed Biden and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, across the bridge in Selma’s annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee. In March 1965, the marchers – including a young Lewis – were beaten by state troopers as they began a 50-mile march to Montgomery.
The brutality shocked the country and led to the Voting Rights Act that struck down impediments to voting by African Americans and ended all-white rule in the South.
In Montgomery on Saturday, Police Chief Kevin Murphy apologized to Lewis for officers’ failing to act. Murphy also presented Lewis with the badge off his uniform during a program at First Baptist Church.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported that Lewis and Murphy spoke Saturday about the day in 1961 when a white mob beat Freedom Riders. Lewis said the Montgomery Police Department decided not to be on the scene. Murphy said an apology should have been issued a long time ago.
In South Florida, a different march was commemorated when a few hundred students from Miami-Dade County public schools and Miami Dade College gathered Feb. 28 at the college’s North Campus in the north central section of the county for a re-enactment of the 1963 March on Washington.
Students sang We Shall Overcome, while carrying signs, some of which read, “Hope is Powerful,” “I Have a Dream” and “Equal Rights for Everyone,” among other slogans. Some marchers chanted, “What do we want? Freedom. When do we want it? Now.”
The march, which marked the culmination of the college’s Black History Month observance, began at the campus’ Niños Sculpture Plaza, where North Campus President Jose Vicente addressed the crowd.
“We stand here today with great pride,” Vicente said. “The March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, more commonly known as the March on Washington . . . symbolized hope and courage for African Americans in the United States and provided a strong voice of advocacy and purpose that resonated throughout America.”
The march culminated lakeside, where student Devonte Herbert gave a passionate recital of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
“I feel excited. As a black gentleman, it’s a pleasure for me to take part in the event,” said nursing student Dukens Obain. “The speech gave me a better sense of what (Dr. King) felt when he wrote it.”
In Selma on Sunday, Biden, the first sitting vice president to participate in the annual re-enactment, said nothing shaped his consciousness more than watching TV footage of the beatings.
The marchers “broke the back of the forces of evil,” he said, but added that challenges to voting rights continue today with restrictions on early voting and voter registration drives and enactment of voter identification laws where no voter fraud has been shown.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the re-enactment this year had a sense of urgency because the U.S. Supreme Court heard a request Feb. 27 by a mostly white Alabama county to strike down Section 5, a key clause of the Voting Rights Act.
"We’ve had the right to vote 48 years but they’ve never stopped trying to diminish the impact of the votes,’’ Jackson said.
Also referring to the Voting Rights Act, the Rev. Al Sharpton said, “We are not here for a commemoration. We are here for a continuation.”
*Pictured above U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., points to where he and others were beaten 48 years ago when they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge during a civil rights march in Selma, Ala. Lewis and others led a re-enactment of the march on Sunday. Behind him is Vice President Joe Biden who is flanked on his right by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and by the Rev. Al Sharpton.