SELMA MARCH
Kevin Glackmeyer  /  AP
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., center, walks arm in arm Sunday with other members of Congress, in Selma, Ala., on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to mark the 40th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march. From left are, Rep. Maxine Waters and Rep. Barbara Lee, both D-Calif.; Lewis; Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; Rep. Arthur Davis, D-Ala., and Senate Majority leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
updated 3/6/2005 8:10:18 PM ET 2005-03-07T01:10:18

Aging civil rights-era figures and a bipartisan congressional delegation observed the 40th anniversary of the historic Selma voting rights march Sunday with church services and ceremonies celebrating the protest that opened ballot boxes to blacks across the South.

Among those on hand to commemorate the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge were singer Harry Belafonte, who took part in the demonstration 40 years ago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and Lynda Johnson Robb, whose father, President Lyndon Johnson, signed the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965.

“President Johnson signed that act, but it was written by the people of Selma,” said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who was clubbed on the head during the “Bloody Sunday” attack on marchers by state troopers and sheriff’s deputies on March 7, 1965. He was among 17 black people hospitalized as that march was turned back.

A second march two weeks later, under the protection of a federal court order and led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., went 50 miles from the bridge over the Alabama River to the steps of the state Capitol in Montgomery.

March spawned Voting Rights Act
The attack and the march inspired passage of the Voting Rights Act, which barred obstacles such as literacy tests that were set up by segregationists to keep blacks from registering to vote.

Video: ‘Bloody Sunday’ A re-enactment of the five-day march is planned this week, culminating with a rally at the Capitol on Saturday.

In a service at Brown Chapel, six blocks from the bridge, Lewis cited former President Bill Clinton, who crossed the bridge with Selma marchers in 2000, and former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman as white politicians who have greeted modern civil rights concerns with open arms.

“Five years ago, this governor had all the state troopers line up on that bridge. Five years ago, state troopers, black and white, men and women, stood and saluted us,” Lewis said amid applause for Siegelman.

Some act sections up for renewal
Certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act, such as the use of federal examiners and a requirement for Justice Department approval of election law changes, will be up for renewal by Congress in 2007.

Currently, 74 percent of voting-age blacks in Alabama are listed as active voters. That compares with 77 percent of voting-age whites, based on figures compiled by the secretary of state and the Census Bureau’s estimates of voting-age residents.

In March 1965, only 19.3 percent of eligible blacks were registered in Alabama, compared with 69.2 percent of whites.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: The fight for the right to vote

loading photos...
  1. Civil rights activists march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965, on their way to Montgomery, the state capital. They are demanding voter registration rights for blacks, who are discouraged and many times threatened with violence if they try to vote, particularly in small towns in the South. (Flip Schulke / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Tear gas fills the air as state troopers, on orders from Gov. George Wallace, break up the march. March 7, 1965, becomes known as Bloody Sunday after state troopers assault the marchers with clubs and whips. A shocked nation watches the police brutality on television and demands that Washington intervene and protect voter registration rights for blacks. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Alabama state troopers beat marchers with nightsticks in Selma on March 7, 1965. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Wilson Baker, left, Selma's public safety director, and Mayor Joe Smitherman, right, tell reporters why they are banning a march to the courthouse, as protesters gather in a nearby church on March 10, 1965. Smitherman said tensions were too high to permit the eight-block march. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Voting rights activists clasp hands at a rally before starting the third and final march from Selma to Montgomery, on March 21, 1965. (Flip Schulke / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Marchers cross the Alabama River on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on March 21, 1965, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the start of a five-day, 50-mile march to the state Capitol in Montgomery. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. links arms with other civil rights leaders as they set off from Selma on March 21, 1965. King is fourth from right, and Dr. Ralph Bunche, undersecretary of the United Nations, is third from right. They are wearing leis given to them by a Hawaiian group. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A soldier stands guard in Selma on March 21, 1965, on orders from President Johnson to protect the marchers. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965. Widely considered the most effective civil rights legislation ever in the United States, the law bans discriminatory tactics such as literacy tests aimed at preventing blacks from voting. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments