Children stand near a photograph of Bloody Sunday on the 49th anniversary of the signing of Voting Rights Act of 1965 early Wednesday afternoon. (Jay Sowers | Times-Journal)
Children stand near a photograph of Bloody Sunday on the 49th anniversary of the signing of Voting Rights Act of 1965 early Wednesday afternoon. (Jay Sowers | Times-Journal)

Rally draws attention to voting fight

Published 8:56pm Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Community members gathered at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge Wednesday to commemorate the 49th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

While the actions that lead up to the act’s signing were remembered Wednesday, speeches focused largely on policies currently on the books in Alabama, which some believe discriminate against minorities.

Event organizer Rose Sanders, said next year’s 50th anniversaries of both Bloody Sunday in March and the signing of the Voting Rights Act in August would be tainted if improvements were not made to voting policies within the city and state.

“If we don’t do anything about the injustices in Selma, if the Voting Rights Act is not restored, then the 50th anniversary is not going to be a commemoration,” Sanders said. “It’s going to be a continuation of the struggle to demand the right to vote.”

Sanders — wife of State Sen. Hank Sanders, who was unable to attend Wednesday’s rally — said a vote by the U.S. Supreme Court last June that allowed nine states, including Alabama, to change their election laws without federal approval, opened the door for institutional discrimination.

For many at Wednesday’s rally, the most glaring example of unfair practices was the state’s requirement of a voter ID card to vote.

“We felt the Supreme Court had actually killed the voting rights bill,” said Sam Walker, historian at the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. “We decided to hold a memorial to let people know this happened. To let them know the voting rights act is dead and we need to do something to resurrect it.”

Following Wednesday’s event, Walker joined other participates as they drove the streets of Selmont and Selma in vans and hearses to pass out information about the Voting Rights Act of 2013 for the second year in a row.

Sanders said elected officials currently serving at all levels of government — who, in her opinion, are culpable for voting rights failures — aren’t alone in that guilt.

“We the people have stopped demanding change,” Sanders said. “We have become too complacent with black and white elected officials. But the day will come, I truly believe, when we will rise again.”

Standing in the shadow of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, widely regarded as a symbol of the civil rights movement that swept through the country in the mid-1960s, Sanders said it is important to teach younger generations about the struggles for equality in the past.

“We have the responsibility to keep this history alive in the churches and the classroom, because what separates a democracy from a dictatorship? The people’s right to vote,” said Sanders.

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