President Biden on Bloody Sunday: “History Matters”

March 5, 2023

President Biden traveled to Selma, Alabama on March 5 to mark 58 years since “Bloody Sunday.”

“History matters…the truth matters,” Biden said during his speech ahead of the annual walk across the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge. Referencing efforts by some Republicans to suppress race-based history classes among their anti-“Woke” agendas, he added, “No matter how hard some people try, we can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know.”

Biden continued, “We should learn everything, the good, the bad, the truth of who we are as a nation. And everyone should know the truth of Selma.”

“Bloody Sunday” occurred in Selma on March 7, 1965 when 25-year-old John Lewis—later a Democratic U.S. Congress member for the state of Georgia—was one of the prominent activists who marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, only to suffer a fractured skull when Alabama state troopers beat the 600 civil rights marchers to stop their crossing to Montgomery.

Public outcry following the police brutality at the march subsequently led to a push to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the annual commemorative march across the notorious bridge has become part of what’s known as the “Selma Jubilee.”

“As I come here in commemoration, not for show, Selma is a reckonning,” said Biden during his speech at the foot of the bridge. “The right to vote, to have your vote counted, is the threshold of democracy and liberty. With it, anything’s possible. Without it, without that right, nothing is possible.” 

He added that this fundamental right “remains under assault.” The “conservative Supreme Court had gutted the Voting Rights Act” over the years, he stated, further noting that since the 2020 election a “wave of states, fueled by the Big Lie”—former President Trump’s false claims that he won reelection—have passed new laws to restrict the right to vote, including a new congressional map in Alabama. 

He pressed again for Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act—both of which in 2021 passed the then-Democratic-led House in the 117th Congress but failed to pass in the Senate.

Meanwhile, there is an effort to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge—which had been named after a Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan leader—for John Lewis, who died on July 17, 2020 at age 80.

Charles Mauldin, a civil rights leader who was a 17-year old high school student on the bridge on “Bloody Sunday,” introduced Biden at this year’s Jubilee.

“What happened in Selma is that people took the initiative to take control of their lives despite the trepidation, despite the fear, despite the possibility of loss,” Mauldin said before calling the President to the lectern. 

This year’s visit to Selma is Biden’s first as President. Last year, Vice President Harris took part in the annual march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And in 2021, the Selma Jubilee went virtual due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2023 Jubilee comes less than two months after a tornado struck Selma and surrounding counties, causing heavy damage and killing nine people. 

“On March 7, 1965, Selma was the scene of a devastating political storm. Our beloved community faced another storm that caused great damage on Jan. 12, 2023, when a tornado ravaged the city. Selma has withstood tremendous obstacles. We know the next storm will make us stronger, and the Jubilee will go on…” organizers stated in a news release.

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