Vice President Joe Biden, civil rights leaders gather in Selma to commemorate 48th anniversary of 'Bloody Sunday' marchBy Will Tucker | 03/03/2013 11:00pm
SELMA, Ala. — Vice President Joe Biden and other civil rights leaders decried the Supreme Court’s recent examination of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act at events held to mark the 48th anniversary of the 1965 civil rights march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala.
Biden spoke to a crowd in the Wallace State Community College gymnasium for the Martin and Coretta King Unity Brunch.
“We have still have work to do … I know you hear that in every speech, in fact from every white politician that talks to you … but I’ve got some bonafides here, folks,” Biden said, speaking on laws that he said would restrict voting access to for black Americans. “As we were preparing to run for re-election, 41 states across this nation passed 180 laws to restrict the right to vote. Look folks, here we are. Forty-eight years after all you did, and we’re still fighting in 2011, 2012 and 2013?”
Biden identified the Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder as the latest attempt to undo the civil rights advances that began in 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Act into law four months after a mob on the south side of Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, including Alabama State Troopers, beat and severely wounded participants in a 555-member civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. On Sunday, Biden called the incident a moment of clarity for the nation.
“I wonder how many people know what the fight was about,” Biden said. “It was about the right to vote. Nothing else.”
Biden several times expressed disbelief at the fact that the Supreme Court is even reviewing Section 5 of the law, which requires that jurisdictions in formerly segregated areas must have changes to their voting rules preapproved by the U.S. Attorney General to prevent racial discrimination.
“Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act … I even got Strom Thurmond to vote for its reauthorization,” Biden said, naming the senator from South Carolina who conducted the longest-ever filibuster in the Senate in opposition to the Voting Rights Act of 1957. “Strom Thurmond voted for reauthorization. And yet, it’s being challenged in the Supreme Court of the United States of America as we stand here today.”
Attorney General Eric Holder also said it was important the law stay in place in a speech to the public just before the crowd symbolically crossed the bridge, retracing the steps of the civil rights leaders in 1965.
“Let me be very clear. We are not yet at the point where the most vital part of the Voting Rights Act, Section 5, can be declared unneccessary,” he said.
Holder is the defendant in the suit before the Supreme Court now, in which Shelby County, Ala., argues the requirement for preapproval of voting rule changes is unconstitutionally burdensome to jurisdictions that haven’t had de jure segregation since the 1960s.
Speaking before the vice president at the Unity Brunch, the Rev. Jesse Jackson offered the day’s harshest critique of the argument.
“We’re one vote away from oblivion,” he said of the Supreme Court. “One vote between us and radical retrogression … the pro-segregationist forces never stop trying to undermine the vote. We got the right to vote in 1819, ‘65 and then came something we knew nothing of – gerrymandering, how they draw the lines.”
Biden arrived in a motorcade and spoke after Holder to the crowd massed on Water Street in Selma at 2 p.m., reiterating many of his earlier points, then led the thousands of people across the bridge for the symbolic recreation of the 1965 march. Many in the crowd carried signs and banners supporting various causes and dispersed after crossing the Alabama River.
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