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‘The world is watching’

Thousands commemorate ‘Bloody Sunday’ attack

By Kalin Thomas Contributing Writer | 3/8/2013, noon

SELMA, Alabama – Three busloads of metro Atlanta activists, civic leaders and laypeople traveled to this iconic Southern town on Sunday to commemorate the 48th anniversary of a notorious police beating of civil rights marchers known as “Bloody Sunday.”

Local residents joined more than 5,000 activists, elected officials and other community leaders – led by Vice President Joe Biden and Georgia Congressman John Lewis – in crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge this past Sunday to remember the police beating and continue the fight for equal rights in America.

Many metro Atlanta marchers – reflecting on the long, bloody and often deadly fight for civil rights – said they became overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment.

“I got emotional as it struck me of the courage that the original marchers had to have as they walked across that bridge into the crowd of police and state troopers,” said Victoria Ferguson, a member of First African Church in Atlanta.

Beth Williams, a member of Dayspring International Ministries in College Park, said images of the nation’s horrid past also flooded her thoughts as she crossed the bridge.

“I was crying coming over the bridge thinking how those in uniform didn’t protect the marchers in 1965,” Williams said. “But to see them protecting us today, made me think of how we’ve come a long way.”

A bloody day

The March 7, 1965 event known as “Bloody Sunday” occurred when nearly 600 marchers – led by a young John Lewis, Atlanta activist Rev. Hosea Williams and leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference – attempted to start a 50-mile march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights.

After refusing a police order to turn around and return to their churches, the marchers suddenly were attacked by Alabama State Troopers, who beat, stomped, kicked and mauled marchers, many of them women and young children.

The brutal attack was broadcast to horrified viewers via TV news cameras that night and was key to rousing a sleepy nation about the fight for human and civil rights in America.

Some two weeks later, another march successfully moved along U.S. Route 80 – now known as the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail – and ended at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.

Television coverage of the historic marches helped spark passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which struck down barriers to voting by African Americans and, ultimately, created political opportunities for blacks across the nation eager to pursue political office at the local, state and national levels.

Speaking to the reenactment marchers last weekend, Biden said nothing shaped his consciousness more than watching TV footage of the savage attack in 1965.

“We saw in stark relief the rank hatred, discrimination and violence that still existed in large parts of the nation,” Biden said during a pre-march rally at the foot of the bridge.

Biden said marchers “broke the back of the forces of evil,” but that challenges to voting rights continue today with restrictions on early voting and voter registration drives and enactment of voter ID laws.