Selma march to Alabama capital relaunched with new spirit, purpose
SELMA, Alabama -- Sometimes singing old civil rights songs and led by a mix of old and younger civil rights activists, several thousand protesters marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge Sunday, beginning a trek that will take them to Montgomery -- again.
Some 47 years ago, on March 7, 1965, marchers crossed the same bridge on the way to Montgomery to protest for voting rights. They didn't make it that day. Instead, they were attacked by police so savagely that the march had to be delayed.
The attack by police proved to be a seminal moment in the nation's civil rights struggle. It sickened the nation and led Congress to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Marchers who crossed the bridge Sunday are on a different -- and some say very similar -- mission: They want to bring pressure on Congress, state houses and the courts as they deal with the issues of illegal immigration and voter ID legislation.
Leaders of Sunday's march said both issues pose threats to civil rights victories won with blood. And, leaders said the fight today requires a joining of forces of blacks and Hispanics.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who is leading this latest march to Montgomery, charged that "right wing" forces are attempting to take the country back to a time when blacks and Latinos were second class citizens.
Sharpton, a well known civil rights activist and president of the National Action Network as well as a host of his own MSNBC program, said voter ID laws such as Alabama's are aimed at suppressing black and Latino voting.
"The right has geared up to suppress the vote," Sharpton said. He said that voter ID law legislation in place in 34 states, including Alabama, will disenfranchise up to 5 million voters if left unchallenged.
"What was fought for and won in Selma to Montgomery (in 1965) has never had such a frontal attack as today. We need to get back on the streets and fight for what we fought for in 1965," Sharpton said.
Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, told the crowd that blacks and Latinos must come together to push back against what she called "anti immigration" laws like that in Alabama.
"This is about repeating a part of Alabama's past that does not bear repeating," Murguia said of the state's immigration law. "Voter suppression laws and anti-immigration laws are their way of turning back the clock, but we are not going to allow that to happen."
Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat but Alabama native who was badly beaten during the attack on marchers in 1965, rallied marchers Sunday, telling them that the struggles for human rights in 1965 and in 2012 are the same.
"Forty-seven years ago I spilled a little blood on that bridge but that was nothing compared to those who died so that we could live in a better America," Lewis told a large crowd in front of Brown Chapel AME Church, the same church marchers used to stage the 1965 march. "We march today for what we did 47 years ago -- for what is fair, what is right and for what is just."
Police estimated the crowd of marchers at between 3,000 to 3,500. While blacks dominated the ranks of marchers, hundreds of Latinos and whites also marched. Scattered among marchers were members of Congress, legislators and civil rights activists, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III.
Most Hispanics in the march declined to give their name when interviewed. One woman explained that she was afraid. "We are all afraid," she said.
One man did give his name, Ricardo Santana of Birmingham, said he came to Selma to stand up to the injustice of Alabama's immigration law.
Law hurts soul
"I love America, and I love Alabama" the man said. "All I've tried to do is work hard and raise my family to love America and Alabama and this law hurts down to my soul." Santana, who has been in the state for 16 years and is a native of Mexico, declined to say if he was in the U.S. legally.
In Washington late Sunday afternoon, the White House issued a statement from President Obama marking the Bloody Sunday anniversary and the march from Selma to Montgomery.
The president praised the courage of those marchers in 1965 who "risked their lives in the name of equality. .¤.¤. Today, we remember their courage in the face of danger and the spirit of perseverance that helped lead to iconic legislation like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. We also recommit ourselves to their struggle and to the idea that we should always seek a more perfect union."
The march stopped for the night about two miles east of Selma. It resumes today along U.S. 80. Sharpton plans to make about 10 miles a day on the trip to Montgomery, a rate that will land protesters in the city in time for a rally planned for the State House Friday.