(SELMA, Ala.) — President Joe Biden traveled to Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 58th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.”
There, Biden spoke at the Edmund Pettus Bridge — where in 1965 hundreds of civil rights marchers were attacked by police. The violence, which sparked national outrage, marked a turning point in the movement and led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
“They forced the country to confront the hard truth and to act to keep the promise of America alive,” the president said in his remarks at the bridge. He also stressed that he believed voting, a “fundamental right,” remains under assault decades later — from conservative Supreme Court justices and from state lawmakers and from election deniers.
Biden touted some steps he and others had taken, such as enacting the post-Jan. 6 Electoral Count Reform Act. But “we must remain vigilant,” he said, repeating his plea for Congress to pass new voting legislation named for the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who was beaten and suffered a skull fracture during “Bloody Sunday.”
And while the president said there was a list of other accomplishments he was proud of, including various investments in the Black community, “We know there’s work to do,” he said, briefly touching on destructive tornado weather that had blown through Selma.
His message, on the anniversary of the march, was “extremism will not prevail …. Silence, as the saying goes, silence is complicity. And I promise you, my administration will not remain silent. I promise you.”
After speaking, the president marched across the bridge with civil rights advocates — the first time he did so since entering the White House.
Biden’s press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Friday, as she previewed the trip, that he would “talk about the importance of commemorating ‘Bloody Sunday’ so that history cannot be erased. He will highlight how the continued fight for voting rights is integral to delivering economic justice and civil rights for Black Americans.”
Biden has repeatedly spoken on voting rights, highlighting the issue in a sermon honoring Martin Luther King Jr. in January and in his most recent State of the Union, despite legislation faltering during his first two years in the Oval Office.
Democrats attempted last year to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act with a bill named after Lewis but failed to gain enough support to break the Senate filibuster. Now, with a Republican-led House, any effort to push legislation through will face an even greater challenge.
“In America, we must protect the right to vote, not suppress that fundamental right. We honor the results of our elections, not subvert the will of the people. We must uphold the rule of the law and restore trust in our institutions of democracy,” Biden said during his State of the Union last month.
Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Selma last year for the 57th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” She said then the marchers beaten by state troopers were fighting for “the most fundamental right of American citizenship: the right to vote.”
“Today, we stand on this bridge at a different time. We again, however, find ourselves caught in between injustice and justice, between disappointment and determination, still in a fight to form a more perfect union,” Harris said. “And nowhere is that more clear than when it comes to the ongoing fight to secure the freedom to vote.”
Biden in 2020, while he was on the campaign trail, received a warm reception as he addressed the congregation gathered at the historic Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma to observe “Bloody Sunday.”
Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., said she invited Biden to attend the “Bloody Sunday” anniversary during his State of the Union.
“I look forward to welcoming the President to my hometown as we reflect on the sacrifices of the Foot Soldiers in the name of equality and justice for all,” Sewell said in a statement.
ABC News’ Justin Gomez contributed to this report.
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