Over the weekend, more than 100 members of Congress traveled to Selma for the commemoration marking the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights. Amy Goodman had a chance to speak with Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who supports the 2013 Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act. We get reaction to Sessions’ remarks from Ari Berman, who reports on voting rights policy for The Nation. He traveled to Selma this weekend with the congressional delegation. His latest article is "Fifty Years After Bloody Sunday in Selma, Everything and Nothing Has Changed." His forthcoming book, "Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America," will be out in August on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Up to 80,000 marched in Selma, Alabama, on Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. On March 7, 1965, hundreds of peaceful voting rights activists were brutally attacked by Alabama state troopers, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery in a voting rights protest. Bloody Sunday was the first of three attempted marches, finally completed under federal protection and led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on March 24. The protests helped bring about the 1965 Voting Rights Act. We spoke to marchers on Sunday as they crossed the bridge.
As we continue our coverage of the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma to Montgomery marches, we look at the civil rights martyrs who lost their lives in the fight to secure voting rights in Alabama. Between February and August of 1965, four civil rights activists were killed in Alabama: Jimmie Lee Jackson, Viola Liuzzo, Rev. James Reeb and Jonathan Daniels. As tens of thousands of people marked the 50th anniversary in Selma, Democracy Now! spoke to marchers who were honoring these civil rights martyrs.
Just outside the historic Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama, Amy Goodman had a chance to speak with the civil rights pioneer C. T. Vivian, a close friend and adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Fifty years ago, Vivian was punched in the face by Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark on the courthouse steps in Selma as he tried to escort a group of African Americans inside to register to vote. The punch was so hard, Clark broke his own hand. Vivian speaks about the power of nonviolence and the continued fight for voting rights.
Martin Luther King III: Don't Idolize My Father, Embrace His Ideals of Freedom, Justice and Equality
We continue our coverage of the 50th anniversary of the historic voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama. On this day in 1965 — the second Tuesday of March — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a second attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery. Two days earlier on Bloody Sunday, Alabama state troopers beat peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On what became known as Turnaround Tuesday, 2,000 protesters marched over the bridge. On the other side they were greeted by a line of flashing lights and police cars and helmeted troopers carrying shotguns. King told the crowd: "Folks, we’re going to have to stop. And we have been assured that we can kneel for a moment of prayer." After a short prayer, the marchers turned around. The third — and final — march from Selma to Montgomery would begin less than two weeks later on March 21. This past Sunday, King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, spoke at the historic Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma where King often spoke.
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One notable civil rights activist who did not take part in this weekend’s commemorative march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma was Diane Nash, who helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She spoke at an event honoring civil rights foot soldiers and explained her opposition was based on the participation of former President George W. Bush. "The Selma movement stands for nonviolence and peace and democracy and fairness and voting rights. And George Bush stands for just the opposite. He stands for violence and war and stolen elections, and, for goodness sake, his administration had people tortured." She argues it is a "huge mistake for Americans to leave the future of this country in the hands of elected officials. … Suppose we had waited for elected officials to desegregate lunch counters, buses, and to get the right to vote. I think 50 years later we would still be waiting."
President Obama spoke on Saturday in Selma, Alabama, near the Edmund Pettus Bridge where civil rights activists led three marches 50 years ago to demand equal voting rights. "The idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America — that idea ultimately triumphed," Obama said. "Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for black folks, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian Americans, gay Americans, Americans with disabilities — they all came through those doors." He concluded: "We know the march is not yet over. We know the race is not yet won."
John Lewis was a young organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when he marched with 600 others across the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago. On Saturday, he returned to Alabama as a Democratic congressman from Georgia to introduce President Obama during the ceremonies commemorating Bloody Sunday, when Lewis and other voting rights activists were beaten by Alabama state troopers. "On that day, 600 people marched into history," Lewis recalls. "Some of us were left bloody ... but we never became bitter." Looking forward, Lewis notes, "Our country will never, ever be the same after what happened on this bridge," but adds, "there’s still work left to be done."
As thousands gather to mark a pivotal moment that prompted Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we speak with U. W. Clemon, Alabama’s first African-American federal judge. He says the current U.S. Supreme Court is "amorous of state rights, which we thought we had fought a great Civil War over, thought we had settled that issue," and argues this is a dangerous trend that has allowed states to enact new restrictions on the right to vote that are "similar to those imposed 50 years ago." Clemon is so concerned that he says "this Supreme Court is a flamethrower, and it is in my judgment the worst Supreme Court in terms of civil rights since 1857, the decision that caused the Civil War." Clemon was referring to the court’s verdict in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857, which intensified national divisions over the issue of slavery when it found Scott did not have the legal right to request his freedom. We also speak with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA); Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church; and Ted Shaw of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law.
As the U.S. Department of Justice calls for a major overhaul of Ferguson’s criminal justice system after finding systemic discrimination against African-American residents, we speak with Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, who marched in Selma to mark the 50th anniversary of the protest for voting rights. "My son would have been able to vote had he still been alive for the election coming up," McSpadden says of Brown, who was 18 years old when he was shot dead by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last August, spurring local and nationwide demonstrations. McSpadden responds to the DOJ’s new report that documents police harassment, abuse and racial profiling of African Americans in Ferguson, and the announcement that Wilson will not face civil rights charges. She calls for the resignations of the Ferguson’s police chief, the mayor and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. We also speak with professor Michael Eric Dyson about the Ferguson report and protests. "The president says this is an aberration. I’m not so sure. It is more representative than I think he or others are willing to admit. … This is representative of the tensions between police and people in many communities across this country." In addition, we talk to Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Barbara Lee, Democratic representative from California; and Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was confronted by Alabama state troopers as he led a march across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. This weekend, his daughter Bernice King was escorted across the bridge by an African-American state trooper. "The contrast between then and now is phenomenal, but the reality is we are at a crossroads," King says. She argues voting rights that were won in 1965 have since been gutted, and calls for a resurgence of activism to restore them. "Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won," King adds, quoting her mother, Coretta Scott King. "You have to earn it and win it in every generation." King also describes her own work conducting nonviolence trainings in Ferguson, Missouri, when protests erupted after the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
Amy Goodman interviewed civil rights luminaries at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, including 103-year-old Amelia Boynton Robinson, who held President Obama’s hand as they marched on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Robinson played a key role in organizing the march and invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Selma in 1965. "If you are not a registered voter and you are 18 years of age, you are a hopeless people. Definitely hopeless, because you have nothing to say about your county, your city, your state," Robinson says. Other women honored this weekend as original "foot soldiers" who marched in 1965 include then 13-year-old Mae Taylor Richmond. "As we knelt down to pray," she recalls, "the state troopers threw tear gas besides us, and we proceeded to run back to the church." We also speak with Rev. Jesse Jackson; Theresa Burroughs, who was 21 years old when she marched in Selma; comedian Dick Gregory; Clarence B. Jones, the attorney for Martin Luther King Jr.; and Susannah Heschel, daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Tens of thousands of people, including President Obama and more than 100 members of Congress, traveled to Selma, Alabama, this weekend for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. On March 7, 1965, hundreds of peaceful voting rights activists were brutally attacked by Alabama state troopers, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery. Bloody Sunday was the first of three attempted marches, finally completed under federal protection and led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on March 24. The protests helped bring about the 1965 Voting Rights Act. "That’s the irony of being here today," says Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "We’ve come to commemorate and lift up and celebrate the activism and the passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act. But today the Voting Rights Act is under peril because of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shelby case two years ago." Ifill outlines how the court ended federal review of changes to voting laws in jurisdictions with a history of abuse, thereby launching a wave of new voting restrictions. She also details efforts by the NAACP-LDF to restore this protection.
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Jesús "Chuy" García, the son of Mexican immigrants, shocked the nation’s political establishment last week by forcing Chicago’s powerful Mayor Rahm Emanuel into a runoff election. Now the race has turned into what could be the next big fight for the soul of the Democratic Party. Emanuel faces public dissatisfaction over his closing of 50 schools in mostly African-American neighborhoods, his handling of a 2012 teachers’ strike, and the city’s high murder rate and levels of gun violence. If García is elected, he will become Chicago’s first-ever Latino mayor. The runoff election will take place on April 7.
Thousands of people are expected to travel to Selma, Alabama, this weekend for the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," when hundreds of peaceful voting rights activists were attacked by police crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they attempted to march to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. Bloody Sunday was the first of three attempted marches from Selma to Montgomery, which was finally completed under federal protection and led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the protesters beaten on Bloody Sunday was Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, then a 25-year-old organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. "I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick. I had a concussion at the bridge," Lewis said. "My legs went out from under me. I felt like I was going to die. I thought I saw Death. All these many years later, I don’t recall how I made it back across that bridge to the church."
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