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Senate Passes Gold Medal Bill for Voting Rights Marchers

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday, Mar 3, 2015, US Representative Terri Sewell (D-Selma), who grew up in Selma, applauded the Senate’s unanimous passage of S517. The bipartisan bill Rep. Sewell introduced in the House awards a Congressional Gold Medal to the voting rights marchers who braved violence to march from Selma to Montgomery. Their courage against state sponsored tyranny led to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Congresswoman Sewell said, “I am deeply humbled by the strong, bipartisan support this bill received in both the House and the Senate. Awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers of the Voting Rights Movement will serve as an enduring reminder of the blood, courage and sacrifice those marchers faced in the pursuit of equality. The Edmund Pettus Bridge was the portal through which America left its dark past and marched to a brighter future. This nation should never forget the sacrifices those who refused to accept second-class citizenship and demanded that our nation live up to the very ideals on which it was founded.”

Rep. Sewell said, “I would like to thank Representative Martha Roby, Senator Jeff Sessions, Senator Corey Booker, and all of the members of the Alabama Congressional delegation for standing with me in support of this bill.”

US Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) said, “I am pleased that Sen. Shelby, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and his committee members have unanimously approved the Congressional Gold Medal for those who marched for voting rights in Selma. I am also grateful for the work of Reps. Roby and Sewell and our entire Alabama delegation for their work in the House. Fifty years ago, it was a time of tension and real danger. The marchers courageously moved forward on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to demand the voting rights to which they were entitled. They were attacked for doing so. This dramatic event captured the attention of the nation, led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and was a key event in ending the systematic denial of the right of African-American citizens to vote in many areas. Those who marched on that day deserve the high honor of the Congressional Gold Medal, which is reserved for exceptional achievements.”

Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) said, “I appreciate the efforts of everyone who made it possible to pass this bill expeditiously: my colleague in the House, Representative Terri Sewell, along with Senators Jeff Sessions, Richard Shelby and Cory Booker. I am pleased to welcome the Faith and Politics Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama as a co-host. It is fitting for Congress to award its highest civilian honor to those who marched to ensure equal voting rights as we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday.”

After House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) signed the bill, Speaker Boehner released this statement: “Today I signed H.R. 431, legislation awarding a Congressional Gold Medal to the foot soldiers who participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. I commend the bill’s authors, Martha Roby and Terri Sewell, who reached across the aisle to make this possible.  The Gold Medal is our highest honor – an expression of our affection and admiration for those who risked everything for their rights and for the good of all people. Mile by mile, these men and women changed the face of America. Long may we retrace their journey. Long may we remember their struggle. Long may they remain an example.”

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Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals or institutions. The medal was first awarded in 1776 by the second Continental Congress to General George Washington.

In 1965 voting rights marchers attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery. They were met by Alabama State Troopers who brutally attacked them on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on March 7, 1965. This day, now known as Bloody Sunday, was the first of three planned, peaceful protests from Selma to Montgomery. Undeterred Dr. Martin Luther King came to Alabama with nearly 2,500 Foot Soldiers just two days later on March 9, 1965, now known as “Turnaround Tuesday.” An estimated 8,000 Foot Soldiers left Selma on March 21, 1965, and successfully marched to Montgomery to peacefully protest restrictive voting laws that prevented Blacks from voting in the South.

This weekend the nation will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march. Thousands are expected to be in attendance, including US Presidents Barack Hussein Obama and George Walker Bush.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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