Every year, I head back to the birthplace of a new America — Selma, Alabama — where a determined struggle for voting rights transformed our democracy 50 years ago.
On March 7, 1965, Hosea Williams and I led a band of silent witnesses, 600 nonviolent crusaders, intending to march 50 miles to Montgomery — Alabama’s capital — to demonstrate the need for voting rights in America.
At the foot of the bridge, we were met by Alabama state troopers who trampled peaceful protestors with horses and shot tear gas into the crowd. I was hit on the head with a nightstick and suffered a concussion on the bridge.
I thought that was going to be my last demonstration. I thought I might die that day.
John Lewis and other peaceful protestors clash with state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965.
We knew the dangers that lay ahead, but we marched anyway hoping to usher in a more fair society — a place where every American would be able to freely exercise their constitutional right to vote, and each of us would have an equal voice in the democratic process.
We knew that standing up for our rights could be a death warrant. But we felt it would be better to die than to live with injustice.
When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, it was a great day. The Act made the ballot box immediately more accessible to millions of Americans of every race, gender, region, economic status, and national origin. It has been called the most effective legislation of the last 50 years.
But just two years ago, the Supreme Court struck a blow at the heart of the Voting Rights Act, nullifying a key provision that had curbed discriminatory voting rules and statutes from becoming law. As soon as the Court’s decision was announced, states began implementing restrictive voting laws.
While some states are changing laws to increase the number of Americans who are able to participate in our democracy, by increasing early voting days and making it easier for people to cast a ballot, far too many states are passing new laws that make it harder and more difficult to vote.
Early voting and voter registration drives have been restricted. Same-day voting has been eliminated in some cases. Strict photo identification laws have been adopted, and improper purges of the voting rolls are negating access to thousands, perhaps millions, who have voted for decades.
That’s why people are still marching for this cause today. Even as we speak, the NAACP is leading a 40-day, 40-night march from Selma to Washington, D.C. in support of a number of issues, including the issue of voting rights.
As citizens, it is our duty to make sure that our political process remains open to every eligible voter, and that every citizen can freely participate in the democratic process.
And when it comes time to get out and vote — we have to do so. The right to vote is the most powerful nonviolent, transformative tool we have in a democracy, and the least we can do is take full advantage of the opportunity to make our voices heard.
Despite the challenges, I am still hopeful — but we must remain determined. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each and every one of us, each generation, must do our part to help create a more perfect union.
Keep marching on.
Member of Congress
1623 – The first alcohol temperance law in the colonies was enacted in Virginia.
1624 – In the American colony of Virginia, the upper class was exempted from whipping by legislation.
1750 – “King Richard III” was performed in New York City. It was the first Shakespearean play to be presented in America.
1766 – The first Spanish governor of Louisiana, Antonio de Ulloa, arrived in New Orleans.
1770 – “The Boston Massacre” took place when British troops fired on a crowd in Boston killing five people. Two British troops were later convicted of manslaughter.
1793 – Austrian troops defeated the French and recaptured Liege.
1836 – Samuel Colt’s Patent Arms Manufacturing of Paterson, New Jersey, was chartered by the New Jersey legislature.
1842 – A Mexican force of over 500 men under Rafael Vasquez invaded Texas for the first time since the revolution. They briefly occupied San Antonio, but soon headed back to the Rio Grande.
1864 – For the first time, Oxford met Cambridge in track and field competition in England.
1867 – An abortive Fenian uprising against English rule took place in Ireland.
1868 – The U.S. Senate was organized into a court of impeachment to decide charges against President Andrew Johnson.
1872 – George Westinghouse patented the air brake.
1900 – Two U.S. battleships left for Nicaragua to halt revolutionary disturbances.
1901 – Germany and Britain began negotiations with hopes of creating an alliance.
1902 – In France, the National Congress of Miners decided to call for a general strike for an 8-hour day.
1907 – In St. Petersburg, Russia, the new Duma opened. 40,000 demonstrators were dispersed by troops.
1910 – In Philadelphia, PA, 60,000 people left their jobs to show support for striking transit workers.
1910 – The Moroccan envoy signed the 1909 agreement with France.
1912 – The Italians became the first to use dirigibles for military purposes. They used them for reconnaissance flights behind Turkish lines west of Tripoli.
1918 – The Soviets moved the capital of Russia from Petrograd to Moscow.
1922 – “Annie Oakley” (Phoebe Ann Moses) broke all existing records for women’s trap shooting. She hit 98 out of 100 targets.
1924 – Frank Caruana of Buffalo, NY, became the first bowler to roll two perfect games in a row.
1933 – U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a four-day bank holiday in order to stop large amounts of money from being withdrawn from banks.
1933 – The Nazi Party won 44 percent of the vote in German parliamentary elections.
1934 – In Amarillo, TX, the first Mother’s-In-Law Day was celebrated.
1943 – Germany called fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds for military service due to war losses.
1946 – Winston Churchill delivered his “Iron Curtain Speech”.
1946 – The U.S. sent protests to the U.S.S.R. on incursions into Manchuria and Iran.
1953 – Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin died. He had been in power for 29 years.
1956 – The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the ban on segregation in public schools.
1969 – Gustav Heinemann was elected West German President.
1970 – A nuclear non-proliferation treaty went into effect after 43 nations ratified it.
1976 – The British pound fell below the equivalent of $2 for the first time in history.
1977 – U.S. President Jimmy Carter appeared on CBS News with Walter Cronkite for the first “Dial-a-President” radio talk show.
1984 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cities had the right to display the Nativity scene as part of their Christmas display.
1984 – The U.S. accused Iraq of using poison gas.
1985 – Mike Bossy (New York Islanders) became the first National Hockey League player to score 50 goals in eight consecutive seasons.
1993 – Cuban President Fidel Castro said that Hillary Clinton was “a beautiful woman.”
1993 – Sprinter Ben Johnson was banned from racing for life by the Amateur Athletic Association after testing positive for banned performance-enhancing substances for a second time.
1997 – North Korea and South Korea met for first time in 25 years for peace talks.
1997 – Chuck Niles received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
1998 – NASA announced that an orbiting craft had found enough water on the moon to support a human colony and rocket fueling station.
1998 – It was announced that Air Force Lt. Col. Eileen Collins would lead crew of Columbia on a mission to launch a large X-ray telescope. She was the first woman to command a space shuttle mission.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” -George Santayana (16 December 1863 in Madrid, Spain – 26 September 1952 in Rome, Italy) was a philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist.
On March 7, 1965, hundreds of brave unarmed nonviolent women and men dared to March for African Americans right to vote.
The fact is that less than 1% of eligible Blacks could vote or register to vote.
People organized a Peaceful Protest March from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery. However, as these protesters crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Montgomery the police, some riding on horses had, looking back, a predetermined tactical intervention against protesters, police proceeded to engage in “excessive use of force” brutally beating protesters such as #RepJohnLewis some of these officers actually killed using their nightsticks, sprayed water cannons while others used tear gas. These kids had no weapons, they did NOT fight back, but showed courage and strength. We must never forget that some of our fellow Americans died for the right to vote in an adverse harmful environment, hastily retreated while journalists and photographers became witnesses to the violence and suffering .
The brutal reaction by the police was not only caught on tape it forced then President Johnson, who was once against civil rights programs as a Senator to call on Congress for equal voting rights for all on March 15.
The Voting Act of 1965 was signed into law on August 6; is a landmark piece of national legislation in the United States that outlawed discriminatory voting practices that had been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of African Americans in the U.S.
A day that started out peacefully quickly descended into an awful ugly March of death for the right to vote called ,”Bloody Sunday”.
Now, some 48 years later, a new “Jim Crow” era has emerged with a major step backward in the fight for civil and voting rights. There are conservative states targeting not only African Americans but also Senior citizens, first time voters, early voting, Students, low income, immigrants and the undocumented though Republicans call them (illegals) Dreamers. In addition, Governors from Republican controlled States are allowing election officials to purge voters, people without birth certificates were given limited or completely denied access to the voting booth failing to meet new voter ID regulations in time and were treated like possible (illegals). This is the 21st Century; we should be on a progressive path toward equality for all not one that will re-engage folks in the act of racism or exclusion leading to suppressing participation in the election process. This year, new stricter voter ID legislation is pending in thirty-one states. This includes, voter ID proposals in thirteen states with proposals to strengthen existing voter ID laws in ten states, and eight states that will amend the new voter ID laws passed in 2011.
We need to push back on all attempts to suppress the right to Vote.
With so much at stake, it is time to stop sitting on the sidelines. If we are going to succeed, Conservative lawmakers NEED to hear our Voices.
We cannot let the naysayers turn back the clock on Voting Rights or the next generation.
Thank You for Taking Action