Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined thousands of marchers, including President Barack Obama and Congressman John Lewis, on the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march. The historic march, which took place on the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, brought together elected officials, civil rights activists and ordinary residents hoping to capture the energy and to re-ignite a movement.
“Finding my way to Selma is a journey to a high point in Civil Rights history that I could not imagine ignoring,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “I came here for my own sense of commitment but also as a way of saluting those brave men and women who gave so much in order for us to enjoy the right to vote.”
Calling the Voting Rights Act of 1965 one of the “crowning achievements of our democracy,” President Obama noted the significance of a recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down an important aspect of the law and efforts to suppress voter turnout in many states across the country.
“Right now there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote,” said President Obama.
Supervisor Ridley-Thomas noted the significance of Bloody Sunday, the seminal event a half-century ago when marchers demanding voting rights were severely beaten and tear gassed by officers.
“Had it not been for Bloody Sunday, I doubt there would have been a Voting Rights Act,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, “That form of brutality set in motion a truer democracy in this land. It was a watershed moment in the history of Civil Rights in this nation.”
While the route was the same, marchers enjoyed better conditions. Rather than suffering through a beating at the hands of police, the marchers locked arms and chanted songs, cried tears of joy and smiled at the turn of history of the march being led by an African American president.
“This is where the new dream is born,” said Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, who is Chair of the California State Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee. He noted that Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ past work as the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference set an example of public service work that he chose to follow.
But challenges remain. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is named for a Confederate general who was also a leader of the Ku Klux Klan and the Selma City Council only a few years ago spent city funds to erect a monument in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Poverty, unemployment, health disparities are still higher among African Americans than other racial groups.
Despite the sacrifices made by the Civil Rights era generation, voter participation rates in the United States are still among the lowest of any industrialized nation with less than 40 percent of eligible voters exercising their right. In Los Angeles, the March local election saw less than 10 percent of eligible voters turn out.
“The work is not done, the march is not over,” said actress and activist Sheryl Lee Ralph, who joined the celebrants in Selma and echoed the President’s call to action. “Selma is now.”
View Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ trip on Bloody Sunday to 16th Street Church in Birmingham:
The extended Selma video is available here: