Thousands of marchers, government officials and other public figures gathered Sunday for a second straight day to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a brutal police assault on civil-rights demonstrators that spurred the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Starting from early morning, groups of people began to march across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of Selma’s Bloody Sunday march on March 7, 1965.
The bridge, which is named after a former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, has become a potent symbol both of change and of the work many here say still needs to be done.
Outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who was in attendance, criticized voting restrictions pursued by conservative lawmakers and what Holder called a “profoundly flawed” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that weakened the federal government’s voting-rights enforcement powers.
“It has been clear in recent years that fair and free access to the franchise is still, in some areas, under siege,” Holder said at the memorial service. “Shortly after the historic election of President Obama in 2008, numerous states and jurisdictions attempted to impose rules and laws that had the effect of restricting Americans’ opportunities to vote — particularly, and disproportionately, communities of color.”
Holder also drew applause from the audience by making another nod to current controversies in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere across the U.S. He noted that the activist Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was killed in Marion, Ala., in 1965, had been an unarmed black man.
“We will march on,” Holder said, calling on his listeners to “challenge entrenched power.”
Outside the chapel, crowds gathered in fewer numbers than the previous day, when President Barack Obama gave a speech on race in America at the foot of the bridge.
The mood in the crowd was lighter and more celebratory Sunday, without the edginess that comes with metal detectors, pat-downs and Secret Service presence.