Bloody Sunday memorial March 7 to honor late civil rights giants

Free Press wire reports | 3/4/2021, 6 p.m.
This year’s commemoration of a pivotal moment in the fight for voting rights for African-Americans will honor four giants of ...

SELMA, Ala. - This year’s commemoration of a pivotal moment in the fight for voting rights for African-Americans will honor four giants of the Civil Rights Movement who died in 2020, including the late Congressman John Lewis of Georgia.

Organizers have announced plans for the Sunday, March 7, celebration that is being conducted differently this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, the Rev. C.T. Vivian, attorney Bruce Boynton and Rep. Lewis will be honored posthumously during the 56th annual commemoration of Bloody Sunday, the day in 1965 that civil rights marchers were brutally beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

The four will be honored during the Martin & Coretta King Unity Breakfast on Sunday in Selma. The breakfast will be held as a drive-in, and people will remain in their cars during the breakfast while speakers will address the crowd from a stage.

There will then be a “slow drive” across the Edmund Pet- tus Bridge and wreaths will be placed honoring the four, former state Sen. Hank Sanders said.

Mr. Sanders said the COVID-19 pandemic did not allow the four to have large funerals with the exception of Rep. Lewis, who was hon- ored with events in Georgia, Alabama and Washington, D.C. The former Georgia congressman was beaten during Bloody Sunday.

“This is lifting the people who were on the battlefield for a long time, starting in the 1950s and continuing all of their lives. ... 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,” Mr. Sanders said.

Footage of the Bloody Sunday beatings helped galvanize support for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This year’s commemoration comes as some states seek to roll back expanded early and mail-in voting access and efforts have been unsuccessful to restore a key section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval for any changes to voting procedures.

Bernard LaFayette, who worked with all four men, will speak at the breakfast, Mr. Sanders said.

While much of the annual Bridge Crossing celebration will be virtual this year, Mr. Sanders said they wanted to have events that people could safely attend.

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 organizing 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 whites-only section part of a racially segregated bus station in Richmond, Va., in 1958, launching a chain reaction that ultimately brought about the abolition of Jim Crow laws in the South. Mr. Boynton contested his conviction, and his appeal resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1960 that prohibited segregation on interstate buses and in bus stations and other facilities linked to interstate travel. The next year, dozens of Black and white students, known as Freedom Riders, set out on buses to travel the South and test whether the high court’s ruling was being followed.