SELMA, Ala. — Atlanta’s legendary Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) showed unequivocally that, even 50 years later, the violent events of “Bloody Sunday” at the Edmund Pettus Bridge that nearly killed him still mean a great deal to the unabashed progressive leader.
President Obama led the ceremony Saturday marking the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, lauding the the men and women who fought for civil rights in the 1960s, most particularly Lewis.
“There are places, and moments in America, where this nation’s destiny has been decided,” the president said on Saturday. “Selma is such a place.”
Obama made remarks from the Edmund Pettus Bridge on which, five decades earlier, police used clubs and tear gas to savagely beat civil rights demonstrators on March 7, 1965. The event is considered a watershed moment in the civil rights movement and helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history — the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher — met on this bridge,” Obama said, turning to Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who was present at the march. “It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. And John Lewis is one of my heroes.”
Obama was joined by his wife, first lady Michelle Obama and his two daughters Malia and Sasha, as well as former President George W. Bush, his wife Laura, and approximately 100 members of Congress, all Democrats.
Obama and his family walked about a third of the way across the bridge, accompanied by Lewis, who has given fellow lawmakers countless tours of this scene. Bush, his wife and scores of others came with them before a larger crowd followed.
“We have come to Selma to be reminded that we have do the work that justice and equality calls us to do,” Lewis said.
Tens of thousands of others also attended the event. Congressional Republican leaders were absent from the event, but House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio released a statement of respect and congratulations to the heroes of the Selma-to-Montgomery campaign.