Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd gathered for the annual commemoration of Bloody Sunday in 1965 that Americans “can’t let their guard down” against attempts to restrict access to voting. Speaking before the Martin and Coretta King Unity Brunch on Sunday morning, Biden said states had passed 180 laws restricting voting, “some more pernicious than others.” “Here we are, 48 years after all you did, and we’re still fighting?” Biden asked a capacity crowd at Wallace State Community College in Selma. “In 2011, 12 and 13? We’re able to beat back most of those attempts in election of 2012, but that doesn’t mean it’s over.” Biden, who brought his daughter and sister with him, joined several speakers at the rally who were critical of voter ID attempts and a lawsuit brought by Shelby County, Ala., to overturn Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a law whose passage was inspired by the events in Selma. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last week. The vice president joked that he got the “credit or blame” when he was a senator for convincing Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., the presidential candidate of the States’ Rights Democrats in 1948, to vote to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.
The event commemorates “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, when a group of protesters led by current U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., were attacked by state and local police as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. later led a march from Selma to Montgomery that swelled to 25,000 people by the time it concluded. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in August of that year.
Speakers before Biden were equally critical of challenges to the Voting Rights Act. “If they remove Section 5, streets can not hold us,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson at the brunch. “We’re not going back. If they remove Section 5, jails can not contain us. We’re not going back.”
William Bell, the mayor of Birmingham, Ala., mentioned that challenge and touched on the 50th anniversary of several critical developments in the civil rights fight in Birmingham, including the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young girls were killed.
“Challenges every day are occurring,” Bell said. “Now is the time to recommit ourselves (to civil rights).”