Vice President Joe Biden, center, leads a group across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., Sunday, March 3, 2013. They were commemorating the 48th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when police officers beat marchers when they crossed the bridge on a march from Selma to Montgomery. From left: Selma Mayor George Evans, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., Rev. Jesse Jackson, Biden, Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
Selma, AL — Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd gathered for the annual commemoration of Bloody Sunday in 1965 that Americans “can’t let their guard down” against attempts to restrict access to voting.
Speaking before the Martin and Coretta King Unity Brunch on Sunday morning, Biden said states had passed 180 laws restricting voting, “some more pernicious than others.”
“Here we are, 48 years after all you did, and we’re still fighting?” Biden asked a capacity crowd at Wallace State Community College in Selma. “In 2011, 12 and 13? We’re able to beat back most of those attempts in election of 2012, but that doesn’t mean it’s over.”
Biden, who brought his daughter and sister with him, joined several speakers at the rally who were critical of voter ID attempts and a lawsuit brought by Shelby County, Ala., to overturn Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a law whose passage was inspired by the events in Selma. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last week.
The vice president joked that he got the “credit or blame” when he was a senator for convincing Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., the presidential candidate of the States’ Rights Democrats in 1948, to vote to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.
The event commemorates “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, when a group of protesters led by current U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., were attacked by state and local police as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. later led a march from Selma to Montgomery that swelled to 25,000 people by the time it concluded. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in August of that year.
Speakers before Biden were equally critical of challenges to the Voting Rights Act. “If they remove Section 5, streets can not hold us,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson at the brunch. “We’re not going back. If they remove Section 5, jails can not contain us. We’re not going back.”
William Bell, the mayor of Birmingham, Ala., mentioned that challenge and touched on the 50th anniversary of several critical developments in the civil rights fight in Birmingham, including the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young girls were killed.
“Challenges every day are occurring,” Bell said. “Now is the time to recommit ourselves (to civil rights).”
Susan Taylor, editor-in-chief emeritus of Essence magazine, asked the civil rights leaders assembled at the college to give them “three things” to work toward. She also praised 101-year-old Amelia Boynton Robinson, who attended the brunch and registered to vote in 1934, recounting that Robinson had met people who said they “stood on her shoulders.”
” ‘Get off my shoulders and do the work,’ ” Taylor quoted her as saying.
Biden also spoke about his feelings watching the events of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery march unfold from his home in Delaware.
“I feel a lot of guilt, like many in my generation, that I could have been here, I should have been here 48 years ago,” he said. “But I wanted my daughter, my sister to be with me here 48 years later.”
The vice president praised those who did march for having “the courage to look evil in the eye, fight against it (and) never give up, knowing, believing that though the cost be high, that victory was inevitable.
“We owe you a debt that can never be repaid … but must be constantly taught to our children,” Biden said.