By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, February 13, US Representatives Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) and Terri Sewell (D-Selma) released a video celebrating a special bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the men and women who, in March 1965, marched from Selma to Montgomery to protest for the voting rights they were already entitled to under the 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution; but had been denied by Alabama state and local officials for decades.
Rep. Sewell, who sponsored the legislation, said the Congressional Gold Medal is a tribute to the bravery of those who marched and to the extraordinary changes they effected. Rep. Sewell said, “I believe the Congressional Gold Medal to these Foot Soldiers who were so brave to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge is a powerful reminder of the power of ordinary Americans collectively achieving extraordinary social change. I think it is really important that we pay honor and tribute to those who were so brave to make sure America lived up to its ideals of equality and justice for all.”
Rep. Roby, who co-sponsored the Congressional Gold Medal bill, said that the timing was important because of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the first march, known as “Bloody Sunday” due to the violence the demonstrators faced that day. Rep. Roby said, “As you know the 50th Anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ is March the 7th. So, Terri and I wanted to make sure this bill made it to the floor in time for the Senate to take it up so we could get it passed before the march occurs and we can properly honor those who had the courage to step forward on that day.”
The resolution gives the highest award a civilian can receive for, “The extraordinary bravery and sacrifice these foot soldiers displayed in pursuit of a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery brought national attention to the struggle for equal voting rights, and served as the catalyst for Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law on August 6, 1965.”
Rep. Roby said, “Terri and I have also been working very hard to recruit Members of Congress to join the Faith in Politics Pilgrimage to Selma and Montgomery for the anniversary. Passage of this bill is so important as we move towards that weekend of reflection.”
The marchers were attempting to march the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery to peacefully protest for voting rights. At the time, state and local officials used any means necessary to maintain White control. Even counties with Black majorities were represented in the legislature by White State Representatives, who of course were militant segregationists. Instead of simply allowing the peaceful marchers to protest (again a constitutional right denied) Alabama Governor George C. Wallace (D) ordered the state troopers to stop the march at the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma by force. Joined by White mobs the Troopers and police used violence to force the protestors to turn back. The whole event was reported on national and international television. A week later Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and marchers from across the country joined the original march which successfully completed the journey. The embarrassing tactics and open police brutality employed by the State of Alabama outraged that nation and helped lead to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. These events are dramatized in a current movie, “Selma.”
The bill, H.R. 431, passed on Wednesday. It is expected to be introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey). They hope to get this passed before March 7.