Harris called the site “hallowed ground” where people fought for the “most fundamental right of American citizenship: the right to vote.”
“Today, we stand on this bridge at a different time,” Harris said in her speech. “We again, however, find ourselves caught in between. Between injustice and justice. Between disappointment and determination. Still in a fight to form a more perfect union. And nowhere is that more clear than when it comes to the ongoing fight to secure the freedom to vote.”
In her remarks, Harris acknowledged the immense sacrifice of marchers whose peaceful protest was met with crushing violence. “They were kneeling when the state troopers charged. They were praying when the billy clubs struck,” she said.
During the demonstrations almost 60 years ago, police attacked and tear-gassed the activists. John Lewis, an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, was amongst those who were assaulted; he suffered a fractured skull.
Back in 2013, a key provision of the law that required certain states with a history of discrimination in voting—mainly in the South—to get U.S. Justice Department approval before changing the way they hold elections was invalidated by a U.S. Supreme Court decision
President Joe Biden on Sunday called for the passage of voting legislation, saying the 1965 Voting Rights Act “has been weakened not by brute force, but by insidious court decisions.”
“In Selma, the blood of John Lewis and so many other courageous Americans sanctified a noble struggle,” Biden’s statement read. “We are determined to honor that legacy by passing legislation to protect the right to vote and uphold the integrity of our elections.”
Although the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was passed in the House, the legislation failed to gain the needed support in the Senate.
Several activists from the 1965 March joined together with Harris as they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, including Charles Mauldin, who was sixth in line behind Lewis on “Bloody Sunday” and was beaten with a nightstick. Two women who escaped the violent mob expressed their pride for Harris,who is the first African and Indian American woman to be elected as Vice-President. “That’s why we marched,” said Betty Boynton, the daughter-in-law of voting rights activist Amelia Boynton. “I was at the tail end and all of the sudden I saw these horses. Oh my goodness, and all of the sudden … I saw smoke. I didn’t know what tear gas was. They were beating people,” Boynton said recalling Bloody Sunday.
“And now they are trying to take our voting rights from us,” she continued. “I wouldn’t think in 2022 we would have to do all over again what we did in 1965,” Boynton expressed regarding the current the tactics of voter suppression taking place throughout the country today and the future of voting rights.