Kamala Harris leads Bloody Sunday memorial as marchers’ voices ring out for voting rights

A vehicle passes by the town welcome sign in Selma, Ala.
Selma, Ala., is commemorating the beatings of civil rights protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. The violence helped spur the Voting Rights Act.
(Mike Stewart / Associated Press)

Vice President Kamala Harris told thousands gathered for the 59th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday attacks on civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala., that fundamental freedoms are under attack in America even today.

Harris joined those gathered at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where voting rights activists were beaten back by law enforcement officers in 1965. The vice president praised the marchers’ bravery as they engaged in a defining moment of the civil rights struggle.

“Today, we know our fight for freedom is not over because in this moment we are witnessing a full-on attack on hard-fought, hard-won freedoms, starting with the freedom that unlocks all others, the freedom to vote,” Harris said.


She criticized attempts to restrict voting, including limits on early voting, and said the nation is again at a crossroad.

“What kind of country do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a country of freedom, liberty and justice? Or a country of injustice, hate and fear?” Harris asked, encouraging people to answer with their vote.

She said other fundamental freedoms under attack include “the freedom of a woman to make decisions about her own body.”

Harris paid tribute to the civil rights marchers who walked across the bridge in 1965 knowing they would face certain violence in seeking “a future that was more equal, more just and more free.”

Harris drew parallels between those who worked to stifle the civil rights movement and “extremists” she said are trying to enact restrictions on voting, education and reproductive care.

Earlier Sunday, U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland told parishioners at a Selma church service commemorating the anniversary that voting rights are endangered in much of the nation.


Garland told a Bloody Sunday service that decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts since 2006 have weakened the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was passed in the wake of the police attack. The demonstrators were beaten by officers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, as they tried to march across Alabama in support of voting rights. Harris led the annual march across the bridge Sunday afternoon.

The march and Garland’s speech are among dozens of events during the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee, which began Thursday and culminated Sunday.

Garland said the rulings have endangered the voting rights of Black Americans.

“Since those [court] decisions, there has been a dramatic increase in legislative measures that make it harder for millions of eligible voters to vote and to elect representatives of their choice,” Garland told worshipers at Selma’s Tabernacle Baptist Church, the site of one of the first mass meetings of the voting rights movement.

“Those measures include practices and procedures that make voting more difficult; redistricting maps that disadvantage minorities; and changes in voting administration that diminish the authority of locally elected or nonpartisan election administrators,” he said. “Such measures threaten the foundation of our system of government.”

Harris spoke at a rally at the bridge after the march about “the legacy of the civil rights movement, addressed the ongoing work to achieve justice for all, and encouraged Americans to continue the fight for fundamental freedoms that are under attack throughout the country.”

Khadidah Stone, 27, part of a crowd gathered at the bridge Sunday in light rain before the march, sees the work of today’s activists as an extension of those who were attacked in Selma in 1965. Stone works for the voter engagement group Alabama Forward and was a plaintiff in the voting rights case against the state that led to the creation of an additional Alabama congressional district with a substantial number of Black voters. Voters will cast their first ballots in that district Tuesday.


“We have to continue to fight because [voting rights] are under attack,” Stone said.

The Selma commemoration is a frequent stop for Democratic politicians paying homage to the voting rights movement. Some in the crowd gathered to see Harris voiced apprehension about the upcoming November election and what appears to be a looming rematch between President Biden and former President Trump.

Nita Hill wore a hat saying “Good Trouble,” a phrase associated with the late Rep. John Lewis, who was beaten on the bridge during Bloody Sunday. Hill, 70, said it is important for Biden supporters to vote in November.

“I believe Trump is trying to take us back,” said Hill, a retired university payroll specialist.

Harris joined the march in 2022, calling the site hallowed ground and urging Congress in a speech to defend democracy by protecting the right to vote. On that anniversary, Harris spoke of marchers whose “peaceful protest was met with crushing violence.”

“They were kneeling when the state troopers charged,” she said then. “They were praying when the billy clubs struck.”

Images of the violence at the bridge stunned Americans, which helped galvanize support for passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law struck down barriers prohibiting Black people from voting.


U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina who is leading a pilgrimage to Selma, said he is seeking to “remind people that we are celebrating an event that started this country on a better road toward a more perfect union,” but the right to vote is still not guaranteed.

Clyburn sees Selma as the nexus of the 1960s movement for voting rights, at a time when there are efforts to scale back those rights.

“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 became a reality in August of 1965 because of what happened on March 7 of 1965,” Clyburn said. “We are at an inflection point in this country. And hopefully this year’s march will allow people to take stock of where we are.”

Clyburn said he hopes the weekend in Alabama would bring energy and unity to the civil rights movement, as well as benefit the city of Selma.

“We need to do something to develop the waterfront, we need to do something that brings the industry back to Selma,” Clyburn said. “We got to do something to make up for them having lost that military installation down there that provided all the jobs. All that goes away, there’s nothing to keep young people engaged in developing their communities.”

AP reporters Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Stephen Groves in Washington and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.