LDF applauded today’s unanimous vote by the House of Representatives to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the foot soldiers who participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches. The bill seeks to recognize all those who participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday or the final Selma to Montgomery March.
Although hundreds of protestors from around the country sought to peacefully march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in support of voting rights on that fateful Sunday in March 1965, they were met with horrific violence at the hands of Alabama State Troopers. The national attention focused on the events in Selma, known as Bloody Sunday, culminated in our nation’s most important civil rights legislation, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
LDF played a critical role in ensuring the marchers could proceed. After the protestors were met with violence on Bloody Sunday, LDF and several of its cooperating attorneys in Alabama, Fred Gray, Solomon Seay, Jr., Oscar Adams, Jr., and Demetrius Newton, filed suit on the next day against Alabama Governor George Wallace in federal court in Montgomery. The lawsuit sought an order allowing the march to go forward. We represented Reverend Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Amelia Boynton, who recently joined Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL) at the President’s State of the Union address. The Department of Justice joined the lawsuit in support of the marchers. The case is known as Wallace v. Williams.
As the legislation notes, U.S. District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson ruled that our clients had a First Amendment right to petition the government. Judge Johnson ordered federal protection to allow the march to go forward, and it was LDF who helped draw up the precise plans for how the marchers would navigate the route from Selma to Montgomery. On March 21, 1965, scores of federal agents successfully escorted 8,000 marchers from Selma to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. Within months, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Recognition of these civil rights warriors is important on two fronts: First, it highlights one of the pivotal moments in our nation’s history to secure equal participation in our democracy through extending to African Americans the right to vote. The courage of these civil rights protesters and the significance of their actions will forever be etched into the nation’s civil rights history as one of our proudest moments. Second, the award comes on the heels of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, which LDF will help commemorate in Selma next month.
While LDF is pleased to recognize the courage of the foot soldiers, we remain keenly aware that, fifty years later, the right to vote for communities of color is in peril. In view of the devastating Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder striking down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act, it is critical that all Members of Congress who join in praising the courage and vision of the Selma protesters unite today to restore the full lustre of the Voting Rights Act, passed in the wake of the Selma march.
Statement From Sherrilyn Ifill: “This legislation, recognizing civil rights pioneers who risked life and limb on behalf of African-Americans, reminds our nation what we are capable of doing when we stay true to our ideals. These marchers were nothing short of brave and courageous for standing on the front lines of the battle to win justice for African-Americans. I consider these marchers to be in lock step with the work of LDF and a partner in protecting the basic civil rights that every American should enjoy.”
NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is a leading voice in the struggle to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans. Founded in 1940 under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall, LDF has been recognized as the nation’s finest civil rights law firm. Although initially affiliated with the NAACP, LDF has been an entirely separate organization since 1957. Please refer to us as “LDF” or “The Legal Defense Fund” in all media.