SEWELL: Remembering the Selma march and why we must protect its legacy

Feb 22, 2015
By Co-Chair Terri Sewell (AL-7)

As the Representative of Alabama's 7th District where so many fought, bled, and died in the struggle for racial equality, I take very seriously my role as a protector of the legacy. And as a daughter of Selma and a lifetime member of the historic Brown Chapel AME Church, such a role is very personal to me.

Preserving the movement for civil and voting rights is a responsibility that no one in the 7th District should take lightly. As the epicenter of the fight for civil rights, we carry the battle scars. 
Next month Selma will welcome President Barack Obama, our nation's first black president whose election justifies the faith that led the civil-rights Foot Soldiers to risk their lives.  People from around the world will gather on Sunday in Selma for the 50th Commemorative March.  They will stand on ground sanctified by the blood, courage and sacrifice of ordinary persons whose commitment to justice changed America.
The Edmund Pettus Bridge is more than a bridge - it was the portal through which America left the dark days of its past and marched into a brighter future. The historic Selma to Montgomery Trail is stained with the blood of the courageous Foot Soldiers we honor now.  Yet the journey they began 50 years ago still continues far beyond their 54-mile trip. 
As long as there are modern day barriers to voting, this sacred right must still be protected. Alabama is one of many states that has imposed restrictive voter photo ID requirements that have a discriminatory effect on the disabled, certain minority communities and senior citizens. The sad fact is that we still need federal protection to enforce the voting rights of all Americans. As recent as 2014, a federal judge ruled that the redistricting plan for the city of Evergreen, Ala., diluted the strength of minority voters by packing blacks into only two districts. 
During this jubilee year of the historic Selma to Montgomery March, we must work tirelessly to ensure that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its protections are revived and restored to protect future generations of voters.
The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal -- Congress' highest civilian honor -- to the Foot Soldiers who participated in the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery.  I was proud to sponsor the bill with Rep. Martha Roby, and to have the entire Alabama delegation join us as original co-sponsors.
While the Congressional Gold Medal is long overdue, the greatest tribute to the courage and sacrifice of the Foot Soldiers is ensuring that the Voting Rights Act is fully restored.
As inheritors of the legacy of the Foot Soldiers, we owe it to them to do more than participate in a one-day Commemorative March. We must recommit ourselves to the ideals of equality and justice for which they fought.  
No one owns the movement nor can anyone dictate how and when we, as Americans, commemorate the legacy.  We should be thankful every day for the courage of the Foot Soldiers and honor their sacrifices by voting in every election - federal, state and local. 
The legacy of the Voting Rights Movement belongs to every American. It is a significant part of American history and it is embedded in the very fabric of this great nation. 
I look forward to all the commemorative events in Selma. I plan to be in Selma for President Obama's speech on Saturday and for the Commemorative March on Sunday.  May this 50th Anniversary remind us of the power of ordinary people to collectively achieve extraordinary social justice.