Bloody Sunday memorial to honour late civil rights giants

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Civil Rights, John Lewis

The commemoration of a pivotal moment in the fight for voting rights for African Americans will honour four giants of the civil rights movement who lost their lives in 2020, including US Representative John Lewis.

The Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee will mark the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday – March 7 1965 – when civil rights marchers were brutally beaten by law enforcement officers on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Mr Lewis, the Rev Joseph Lowery, the Rev CT Vivian, and lawyer Bruce Boynton were being honoured at the commemoration.

Bloody Sunday became a turning point in the fight for voting rights. Footage of the beatings helped galvanise support for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This year’s event comes as some states seek to roll back expanded early and postal voting access, and efforts have been unsuccessful to restore a key section of the Voting Rights Act which required states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval for any changes to voting procedures.

Former state Senator Hank Sanders, one of the founders of the annual celebration, said: “Those of us who are still living, particularly the young, need to take up the challenge and go forward because there is still so much to be done.”

The event typically brings thousands of people to Selma. However, most of the events are being held virtually this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The annual Martin & Coretta King Unity Breakfast will be held as a drive-in event.

The Rev Bernard LaFayette, Martin Luther King III and the founders of the group Black Voters Matter will speak at the breakfast.

President Joe Biden will appear via a pre-recorded message in which he will announce an executive order aimed at promoting voting access.

US Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia and US Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina will also deliver speeches by video.

Rev Lowery, a charismatic and fiery preacher, is often considered the dean of the civil rights veterans and led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Rev Vivian began organising sit-ins against segregation in the 1940s and later joined forces with the Rev Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1965, Rev Vivian led dozens of marchers to a courthouse in Selma, confronting the local sheriff on the courthouse steps and telling him the marchers should be allowed to register to vote. The sheriff responded by punching Rev Vivian in the head.

Mr Boynton was arrested for entering the white part of a racially segregated bus station in Virginia, launching a chain reaction that ultimately helped to bring about the abolition of Jim Crow laws in the South.

Mr Boynton contested his conviction, and his appeal resulted in a US Supreme Court decision that prohibited bus station segregation.

His case inspired the Freedom Riders of 1961 – a group of young activists who went on bus rides throughout the South to test whether court-ruled desegregation was actually being enforced.

They faced violence from white mobs and arrest by local authorities.

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