Joe Biden warned of “hate and extremism” in the US during a speech at Selma Alabama to commemorate the 58th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
The American President paid tribute to the heroes of the civil rights march nearly 60 years ago, and used its annual commemoration to warn of an ongoing threat to US democracy from election deniers and the erosion of voting rights.
Biden joined thousands of people in Selma, Alabama to mark the movement that led to the passage of landmark voting rights legislation shortly after peaceful marchers were brutally attacked by law enforcement on a bridge though town.
Speaking on a Selma stage with the bridge as a backdrop, Biden warned that the right to vote in the US – which the civil rights marchers had sought to gain for Black Americans – was far from safe amid a concerted push to weaken voting rights legislation across the US and prominent Republican efforts to call into question election results.
“The right to vote – to have your vote counted – is the threshold of democracy … This fundamental right remains under assault,” Biden said.
He added: We have to remain vigilant … In America hate and extremism will not prevail though they are raising their ugly heads again.”
Biden: “Forces of hate” attacked Selma protestors
Biden said “the forces of hate” had conspired for the demise of the protestors that day.
“Six hundred believers put faith in action to march across that bridge named after the grand dragon of the KKK … to claim their fundamental right to vote.”
Biden alluded to the bitter contemporary battle over education and the teaching of US history in schools.
“History matters,” he said. “The truth matters, notwithstanding what the other team is trying to hide. No matter how hard some people try, we can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know.
“We should learn everything – the good, the bad, the truth of who we are as a nation. Everyone should know the truth of Selma,” he added.
The lasting importance of the Selma march
Few moments have had as lasting importance to the civil rights movement as what happened on 7 March 1965 in Selma and in the weeks that followed.
Some 600 peaceful demonstrators led by civil rights activists John Lewis and Hosea Williams had gathered that day, just weeks after the fatal shooting of a young black man, Jimmie Lee Jackson, by an Alabama trooper.
Lewis, who would later serve in the US House representing Georgia, and the others were brutally beaten by Alabama troopers and sheriff’s deputies as they tried to cross Selma’s Edmund Pettus bridge at the start of what was supposed to be a 54-mile walk to the state capital in Montgomery, part of a larger effort to register Black voters in the south.
The images of the police violence sparked outrage across the country. Days later, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr led what became known as the “Turnaround Tuesday” march, in which marchers approached a wall of police at the bridge and prayed before turning back.
Related: The Greek Orthodox Archbishop Who Walked with MLK in Selma
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