In late February 1965, during the heat of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama and a few days after the shooting death of Jimmie Lee Jackson by Alabama State Troopers, a Marion civil rights activist named Lucy Foster suggested a response. “We should take his damn body and put it at the feet of Gov. (George) Wallace,” Foster told other civil rights leaders, according to Albert Turner Jr. That idea morphed into a more reasonable one: A Selma-to-Montgomery March, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and right up the Alabama Capitol steps, where protesters would demand that Wallace implement voting rights protections for all people, including blacks. That march became a national spectacle on March 7, 1965, when the protesters were met by state troopers just across the bridge in Selma and savagely beaten. It captivated the country, spurring President Lyndon Johnson to first offer the marchers protection on their journey to Montgomery and later to sign into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“That was great progress,” said Georgia Rep. John Lewis. “I’ll never forget the day we crossed that bridge. We weren’t trying to create history. We were just trying to make it possible for everyone to cast a vote.”
Some 50 years later, however, Lewis, who was beaten during the Bloody Sunday attack, isn’t so sure that the legacy and progress created by that 54-mile march has held up. “I see signs of people trying to tear it down,” Lewis said. “It’s shameful.”
Lewis is not alone. A number of Civil Rights leaders, including many local figures, have been critical of efforts over the years to undermine the Act. At an Alabama State University conference, titled “Give Us the Ballot,” a number of civil rights leaders, historians and history professors spoke of the events that led to the Voting Rights Act’s passage — former Martin Luther King Jr. aide C.T. Vivian called it “the greatest movement of the 20th century” — and also of the damage done to the law over the years.
Full Article: Civil rights leaders seek new voting protections.