President Obama’s Visit to Selma on Anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" Sparks Discord Among Politicians and Civil Rights Veterans

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)
Rep. John Lewis of Georgia
(Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)

Rep. John Lewis said this year’s 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march should reflect the dignity of the original event, which is why he arranged for President Obama to visit the day before local officials in Alabama hold their commemoration.

The result will be two marches in Selma — one on Saturday, March 7, with Obama, Lewis and a record number of congressional lawmakers, and one on Sunday, March 8, run by local leaders.

Local Alabama politicians have objected. They say the anniversary has always been held on a Sunday because March 7, 1965, when protesters marching for voting rights for blacks were clubbed and tear gassed by police, is known as Bloody Sunday.

Since 1998, Lewis has led a delegation of congressmen on a civil rights pilgrimage to Alabama. The trip is sponsored by the Faith and Politics Institute, a bipartisan, interfaith nonprofit focused on racial and political reconciliation in Congress. Before then, Lewis himself attended Bloody Sunday events in Selma for decades.In an interview Thursday, Lewis said past anniversary marches have drawn “some national figures… that take away from the dignity of the members of Congress coming to reflect. We don’t want it to become a circus. That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

The annual recreation of the 1965 march is a prime photo opportunity for politicians and foot soldiers of the civil rights movement, and it regularly attracts presidential candidates and other nationally recognized figures. Photos of re-enactors locked arm-in-arm on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Bloody Sunday took place, get wide circulation every year.

Alabama state Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said Friday there have been tensions in past years between members of Congress and local veterans of the voting rights battles.

“We have tried every year to have the situation be orderly,” Sanders said. “But there are some people on the bridge in addition to John Lewis who deserve to be on the front line.”

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SOURCE: Mary Troyan
USA Today

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