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Democratic presidential candidates visit Selma for 55th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”

About halfway through Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s speech at Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma on Sunday, a man stood and turned his back to the former New York City Mayor. 

Soon after, seven or so others stood and joined in the silent protest against Bloomberg’s “stop-and-frisk” policies during his tenure as mayor, which disproportionately targeted young men of color. 

If Bloomberg had hoped that his visit to Selma on the 55th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”, when hundreds of civil rights activists were beaten trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge demanding that blacks be allowed to vote, would help endear him with black voters, his hope might have been dashed inside the church. 

People standing in protest as former New York City mayor and presidential candidate
Michael Bloomberg speaks at Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma on Sunday.

Joining Bloomberg in Selma on Sunday was former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, D-.Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg also attended, but U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, did not. 

Sunday would be Buttigieg’s last official campaign stop as a candidate. Later on Sunday he announced he was suspending his campaign.  

Former presidential candidate Tom Steyer did show in Selma on Sunday, despite having dropped out himself the day before. 

Ryan Haygood, an attorney and president of New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, told APR after the service that his decision to protest was made on the spot. 

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 “I thought he would use this space to atone for that,” Haygood said of Bloomberg’s often-criticized policing policies. “There’s a direct connection between the police brutality on Bloody Sunday and the police brutality he presided over in New York City, so I thought he would lean in to the moment.” 

“Especially in this sacred space,’ Haygood said of the chapel. “You cannot come in here cavalierly, with that record and not atone for that.” 

Queen Tate Jackson of Selma has been coming to the bridge crossing jubilee for years, she said outside George Corley Wallace State Community College on Sunday morning. Events Sunday started with a breakfast at the college, and in the afternoon a candidate forum was held in the school’s gymnasium. 

“I like Biden,” Jackson said after being asked who she planned to vote for. 

Each candidate is vying for Alabama’s 61 delegates (which includes unpledged superdelegates) but 1,357 delegates are at stake across all 14 states in the Super Tuesday primaries.

There’s scant polling in Alabama, so It’s hard to know where candidates stand with the state’s Democratic voters. The last statewide poll of Alabama voters took place over the summer, according to FiveThirtyEight, and had Biden ahead by 21 points, followed by Sanders. 

Rev. Al Sharpton spoke briefly at the church Sunday, but made no endorsement. 

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Sen. Doug Jones, Rep. Terri Sewell and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin all have come out in support of Biden. 

Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels announced his endorsement of Bloomberg on Friday. 

Biden, however, pulled away from the pack with a strong win in South Carolina’s Democratic primary on Saturday, garnering more than double the votes of the next closest competitor, Sen. Sanders. It was the first primary in a state with a large black voting population, and a signal that blacks were getting behind the former vice president. 

“We are again battling for the soul of this nation,” Biden told those gathered inside Brown Chapel AME Church. 

Biden made no mention of his competitors, but instead focused on President Donald Trump, whom he said was leading with anger, dividing Americans and who “doesn’t understand who we are.” 

Another Queen, 87-year-old Queen Bruton, sat inside the church Sunday and asked who it was that was speaking. 

She didn’t know who Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, was, but when she learned that he’d prosecuted the klansmen who bombed the church in Birmingham and killed four young girls Queen jotted that fact down on the back of her program.  “Doug Jones. The Birmingham bombing” 

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She liked what Jones was saying, but she really wanted to hear Biden, and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who also spoke Sunday morning. 

“She’s inspiring,” Queen said of Abrams. 

After the mass of people and several of the candidates followed the path taken 55 years ago from the church over the bridge, two candidates, Warren and Klobuchar, attended the candidate forum at the college. 

Warren came out to enthusiastic applause from the hundred or so gathered inside the gym. She spoke of her plans to fund education, fair and accessible housing, and to pay off student debt for millions with a 2 cent wealth tax. 

“They’re big plans because we have big problems,” Warren told the crowd. 

Asked about the fear among some that Warren’s promises to fight the wealthy would lead to a backlash and hurt, not help, many communities, Warren said that “there are more of us than there are of them.”


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Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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