WASHINGTON, D.C.- Forty years ago today, civil rights activists marching for voting rights and to commemorate the death of fellow civil rights activist, Jimmie Lee Jackson, were beaten with billy clubs, attacked by police dogs and sprayed with fire hoses by police and fire fighters as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in route from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. Marchers, including now Congressman John Lewis, Hosea Williams and countless others were nearly killed during the protest. Once the events were broadcast to millions of Americans on national television, they piqued the nation’s conscious regarding voting and civil rights. This demonstration ultimately became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid issued the following statement in Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday:
“The painful images witnessed by Americans on that fateful day forty years ago, stirred legislative action around the previously bogged down Voting Rights Act of 1965, which President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law six months later.
“The result of the Voting Rights Act and the subsequent re-authorizations has lead to a dramatic increase in the political participation of African American and Hispanics. Currently there are over 9,100 African Americans serving in elected office, including 43 Members of Congress. Hispanics have also benefited from the Voting Rights Act; there are over 6,000 Hispanics serving in public office, including 27 Members of Congress.
“Despite the dramatic changes over the last 40 years, much work remains to be done. After the 2000 elections revealed incidents of voter suppression and voter intimidation, new election laws like the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) were passed. However, the 2004 election still witnessed many similar problems. Our challenge is to ensure that every person eligible has the right to vote, and that every vote is counted.
“In 2007, various sections of the Voting Rights Act must be reauthorized to further protect against racism and discrimination at the polling both. This includes Sections 4 and 5, which determine and require that jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices submit any changes to their election laws to the Department of Justice. Section 203, which requires bilingual election assistance in communities with limited English proficiency, must also be reauthorized. Finally, portions of Section 6-9 must be reauthorized, which allows the federal government to send observers to jurisdictions where there is evidence of voter intimidation against minorities.
“While we praise the courageous marchers who shed their blood so that our nation could move forward, we will truly honor their efforts by working together to end any infringement on voting rights and in the years to come, re-authorize the Voting Rights Act.”