Congressional delegation coming to Selma

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 27, 2005

Staff reports

Washington, DC – On March 4-6, 2005, civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and honorary pilgrimage co-chairs Sen. George Allen (R-VA), Sen. Jon S. Corzine (D-NJ), House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) will lead Members of the U.S. House and Senate on a bipartisan pilgrimage to historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama.

“I think it’s wonderful that they’re coming down to be a part of this,” Jubilee Coordinator Sam Walker said. “It shows that they understand the importance of the struggle to gain the right to vote for all citizens.

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Following visits to Birmingham and Montgomery, the pilgrimage will culminate in Selma on March 6th at the Edmund Pettus Bridge (right) with a commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” and the Voting Rights March of 1965.

On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, a small group of unarmed men, women and children left Brown AME Chapel in Selma. Led by 23 year-old SNCC leader John Lewis and SCLC leader Hosea Williams, they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge and march from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize their desire to participate in the political process.

Met by state troopers on horseback at the far end of the bridge, the group was driven back across with tear gas and billy clubs.

Lewis was beaten, suffering a fractured skull.

Many others were injured. On March 21st, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lewis and several thousand supporters from across the country marched across the bridge again.

They continued on for five days and 50 miles to Montgomery.

Five months later, Congress passed and President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act, making illegal the widespread use of discriminatory poll tests across the South.

“We stand on sacred ground.

It is a place where peace overcame violence, where faith overcame fear, where love conquered hate.

Here a small group of men and women performed the miracle of the mustard seed.

They demanded that a mountain of fear and hate would fall, and they succeeded,” Lewis said on the 39th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The pilgrimage, the seventh organized by The Faith & Politics Institute, invites Members of Congress and their guests to come together across racial, party, and religious lines for a unique journey of experiential learning to historic sites in Alabama. Lewis and others who played key roles in shaping the Civil Rights Movement lead the pilgrimage.

This year, a group of South African political, civic and religious leaders, including Ahmed Kathrada who spent 26 years imprisoned on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, will join the delegation to explore parallels between the U.S. and South African freedom movements.

Persons from both political parties who crafted civil rights legislation during the Johnson administration will also travel with the group. The three-day passage through living history dramatizes the powerful role that faith and spiritual qualities of conscience, courage and compassion played in shaping our nation’s history.

To date, 65 U.S. Representatives and 11 U.S. Senators have participated in the pilgrimage, deepening their understanding of a crucial chapter in our nation’s history.

Often called “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,” Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls “The Beloved Community” in America.

Through six pilgrimages, Lewis has led 76 colleagues from the House and Senate to historic sites in his home state of Alabama and to a deeper understanding of the motivations, strategies and effects of the Civil Rights Movement he helped create.

This year Lewis is joined by Senate Honorary Co-chairs – Sen. George Allen (R-VA) and Sen. Jon S. Corzine (D-NJ) and Pilgrimage Co-Hosts- Sen. Jeff Sessions, (R-AL) Sen. Richard Shelby, (R-AL) Rep. Spencer Bachus, (R-AL), Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL).