SELMA, Ala. — The commemoration of a pivotal moment in the fight for voting rights for African Americans will honor four giants of the civil rights movement who lost their lives in 2020, including the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis.
The Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee will mark the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday — the day on March 7, 1965, that civil rights marchers were brutally beaten by law enforcement officers on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge. Lewis, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the Rev. C.T. Vivian, and attorney Bruce Boynton are the late civil rights leaders who will be honored on Sunday.
Bloody Sunday became a turning point in the fight for voting rights. Footage of the beatings helped galvanize support for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
FILE – In this Jan. 4, 2012, file photo, civil rights activist C.T. Vivian sits at his home in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
This year's commemoration comes as some states seek to roll back expanded early and mail-in voting access and efforts have been unsuccessful to restore a key section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval for any changes to voting procedures.
"Those of us who are still living, particularly the young, need to take up the challenge and go forward because there is still so much to be done," said former state Sen. Hank Sanders, one of the founders of the annual celebration.
The event typically brings thousands of people to Selma. However, most of the events are being held virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The annual Martin & Coretta King Unity Breakfast will be held as a drive-in event. The Rev. Bernard LaFayette, Martin Luther King III and the founders of the group Black Voters Matter will speak at the breakfast.
President Joe Biden will appear via a pre-recorded message in which he will announce an executive order aimed at promoting voting access.
U.S. Sen Raphael Warnock of Georgia and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina will also deliver remarks by video.
Lowery, a charismatic and fiery preacher, is often considered the dean of the civil rights veterans and led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Vivian began organizing sit-ins against segregation in the 1940s and later joined forces with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1965, Vivian led dozens of marchers to a courthouse in Selma, confronting the local sheriff on the courthouse steps and telling him the marchers should be allowed to register to vote. The sheriff responded by punching Vivian in the head.
FILE – In this March 4, 1990, file photo, civil rights figures lead marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the recreation of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march in Selma, Ala. (AP Photo/Jamie Sturtevant, File)
Boynton was arrested for entering the white part of a racially segregated bus station in Virginia, launching a chain reaction that ultimately helped to bring about the abolition of Jim Crow laws in the South. Boynton contested his conviction, and his appeal resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibited bus station segregation.
His case inspired the Freedom Riders of 1961 — a group of young activists who went on bus rides throughout the South to test whether court-ruled desegregation was actually being enforced. They faced violence from white mobs and arrest by local authorities.
FILE – In this March 4, 2012, file photo, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., center, talks with those gathered on the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge during the 19th annual reenactment of the “Bloody Sunday” Selma to Montgomery civil rights march across the bridge in Selma, Ala. (AP Photo/Kevin Glackmeyer, File)
FILE – In this April 4, 2012, file photo, civil rights activists and Southern Christian Leadership Conference members from left, Ralph Worrell, Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr., C.T. Vivian and Frederick Moore, join hands and sing “We Shall Overcome” at the Atlanta gravesite of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., marking the 44th anniversary of his assassination. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
FILE – In this March 7, 2015, file photo, President Barack Obama, center, walks as he holds hands with Amelia Boynton Robinson, who was beaten during “Bloody Sunday,” as the first family and others including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., left of Obama, walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a landmark event of the civil rights movement. From front left are Marian Robinson, Sasha Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Obama, Boynton and Adelaide Sanford, also in wheelchair. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
FILE – In this March 7, 1965, file photo, a state trooper swings a billy club at John Lewis, right foreground, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to break up a civil rights voting march in Selma, Ala. (AP Photo/File)