President Joe Biden visited Selma on Sunday during the yearly anniversary of Bloody Sunday to honor the memory of foot soldiers who set out from Brown Chapel A.M.E for the State Capitol 58 years ago, in what would become a watershed moment for the entire civil rights era.
In sweltering heat and direct sunlight, Biden’s speech at the Edmund Pettus Bridge served as the culminating event for the annual commemoration and a recommitment from the Biden White House to the preservation of voting rights nationwide.
Charles Mauldin, who as a teenager marched in each of the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, introduced Biden to the stage.
“Selma is a reckoning,” Biden said. “The right to vote, to have your vote counted, is the threshold of democracy and liberty.”
The president singled out Alabama’s congressional districts as an example of a broader nationwide push to marginalize minority voters and said the districts, as drawn in the state, “discriminated against Black voters.” Oral arguments on the constitutionality of Alabama’s congressional district map occurred before the U.S. Supreme Court in October.
Following the president’s remarks, Biden walked across the bridge with a delegation of Black civil and congressional leaders to where Alabama state troopers and a posse of deputized white men assaulted the silent and peaceful column of marchers on March 7, 1965. The late congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis was the first to be beaten.
“On this stage, children-of-god started a journey,” Biden said, quoting from a statement John Lewis gave on his last visit to Selma before his death in 2020. “On this bridge, blood was given to redeem the soul of America.”
Biden’s visit comes only two months after a tornado devastated parts of the city, with hundreds of homes either severely damaged or destroyed in Dallas County. Biden declared the event a major disaster two days following the storms, with federal aid to help in the relief and recovery efforts.
Some $8 million in federal recovery funds has been given to affected areas since, Biden said from the podium, with debris clearing expected to take more than a month to complete.
Earlier on Sunday, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, who aided in the federal government’s commitment of 100 percent cost share in the tornado recovery, spoke before the congregation of Brown Chapel A.M.E in the Edmundite Missions gymnasium. The church is currently undergoing restoration work due to extensive damage caused by termites and water leaks.
“We’re gonna build it back. Just like we’re gonna rebuild Selma,” Sewell said. “We’re reimagining what Selma should be, can be, and we’re going to be coming after those federal dollars.”
Sewell was joined by members of the Congressional Black Caucus and former House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina, during the gathering on Sunday.
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and former leader of the NAACP’s North Carolina state chapter, delivered the concluding sermon before Brown Chapel’s congregation on Sunday.
“We are not of those who shrink back unto destruction,” Barber said, quoting from the book of Hebrews. “But we are those who persevere unto the salvation of the soul.”