Pallone Travels to Alabama to Commemorate 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Marches from Selma to Montgomery

Mar 9, 2015 Issues: Equality

Reflects on Struggles of the Past and the Work Still to Be Done 

WASHINGTON, DC — This weekend, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-6) joined fellow lawmakers, civil rights leaders, and community activists in Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches.  The march, led by Pallone’s now colleague Congressman John Lewis (GA-5), helped spark the civil rights movement in the United States and, ultimately, led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

“It was a humbling experience to be in Selma with my good friend Congressman John Lewis and so many other leaders to witness this monumental anniversary,” said Congressman Pallone.  “We have come a long way since 1965, but we can never forget the struggles of the past that got us here.  This anniversary serves as a moment to recommit ourselves to working towards a truly equal society.  I am honored to have taken part in commemorating the work of so many who helped us to this point and will continue working to ensure that progress is ongoing.”

The commemoration of the Selma to Montgomery march is part of the Faith and Politics Institute’s 15th annual Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to the historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama.  Pallone visited Selma’s historic Brown Chapel AME Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. planned the Selma marches, the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge where marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers on “Bloody Sunday,” the Rosa Parks Museum and Library in Montgomery, and the Alabama State Capitol Building where marchers arrived in 1965 demanding to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

On Saturday, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush attended the commemoration ceremony in Selma to honor those who risked their lives and marched in 1965.  In his remarks, President Obama urged Congress to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in order to ensure that it remains a strong and effective law that protects every American’s right to vote.

The VRA, originally signed in 1965, banned discriminatory voting practices based on race, including the enforcement of poll taxes and literacy tests designed to keep African Americans from voting.  However, in 2013, the Supreme Court struck a major blow to the landmark legislation, striking down a provision that designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court.  The ruling effectively allows jurisdictions across the country to enact policies which prevent minorities from voting without federal oversight.  Congress now must act to restore the fundamental protections put in place in 1965 and ensure that every American has equal access to the polls.

“The provisions of the Voting Right Act are vital for preventing racial discrimination in voting, and we have a responsibility to ensure that those provisions continue to do so,” added Pallone.  “So many risked their lives to march in 1965 so that they could exercise their constitutional right to vote.  Fifty years later, we cannot allow their struggles and sacrifices to be in vain.  Congress must come together to fully restore the VRA.” 

In March of 1965, civil rights protesters organized a march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital of Montgomery to demonstrate black American citizens’ desire to exercise their constitutional right to vote.  On March 7, 1965, now known as “Bloody Sunday,” an estimated 600 civil rights protestors headed east out of Selma to begin the march to Montgomery.  However, they only made it as far as the now infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, where state troopers beat them and attacked them with tear gas, ultimately driving them back to Selma.