On Sunday, March 7th, 1965, Alabama state troopers and local police attacked a peaceful march by 600 civil rights demonstrators from Selma to Montgomery. The day would be remembered as Bloody Sunday. The marchers were just a few blocks into their planned route when they were tear-gassed and beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River. Bloody Sunday was the first of three attempted marches from Selma to Montgomery, which was finally completed under federal protection and led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is widely credited with helping pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act. [includes rush transcript]
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ANJALI KAMAT: We go now to an event that took place forty-five years ago: Bloody Sunday. On March 7th, 1965, Alabama state troopers and local police attacked a peaceful march by 600 civil rights demonstrators from Selma to Montgomery. The marchers were just a few blocks into their planned route when they were tear-gassed and beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River.
Bloody Sunday was the first of three attempted marches from Selma to Montgomery, which was finally completed under federal protection and led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is widely credited with helping pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
About 10,000 people gathered on the bridge this Sunday to commemorate what President Obama called, from Washington, “that terrible day in Selma.”
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman John Lewis, who was among the original participants and badly beaten forty-five years ago, led this Sunday’s march across the bridge, saying the events of March 7th, 1965, quote, "changed America forever." Among the crowd that crossed the bridge Sunday was Reverend Jesse Jackson and Winnie Mandela, the former wife of anti-apartheid leader and former South African president Nelson Mandela.
For more, we’re joined on the phone from Selma, Alabama by the civil rights activist and lawyer Faya Rose Touré. She is the founder of the National Voting Rights Museum and the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Explain what happened yesterday. It’s an honor to have you with us.
FAYA ROSE TOURÉ: Thank you.
What happened yesterday will continue today. Yesterday, I think it was over 10,000 people. I mean, as far as the eye could see, beyond the bridge and behind the bridge, were thousands of people of all ages and all races, really marching for democracy now.
We commemorate Bloody Sunday not just to remember the past, but to remind our people of how precious the right to vote is. And if we are not vigilant, we can lose it. And that’s what Bloody Sunday is about, a reminder that the struggle to secure the right to vote goes on. And there’s a right-wing agenda that is determined to take it away. That’s what I think the Tea Party is all about. So, yesterday, at the bridge, we announced the formation of the Coffee Party. And the Coffee Party is an attempt to organize people who really believe in democracy for all people, so that our voices can be heard.
AMY GOODMAN: The Coffee Party, as opposed to the Tea Party?
FAYA ROSE TOURÉ: That’s right, the Coffee Party.
ANJALI KAMAT: And what’s the Coffee Party calling for?
FAYA ROSE TOURÉ: The Coffee Party is calling for what this, your station, stands for: true democracy for all people, which means healthcare, full coverage for all people, and not just for American citizens, lest we forget that even though black people were called American citizens, we were treated as bad, if not worse, than our immigrant brothers and sisters. As far as we’re concerned, there are no illegal aliens. We are all people. We are all humans. And a true democracy would take care of children of all races, whether they are American citizens or not. We’re also calling for full education opportunity for all children, including the children of so-called illegal alien immigrants. We believe that every child has a right to that. We were joined by Latino children from Chicago and all over this country. In one voice, we’re saying the Coffee Party will lift up the rights of our people. And our major focus right now — and you have to forgive my voice —-
AMY GOODMAN: Faya Rose Touré, we certainly understand, because what’s going on yesterday and today. And the significance for especially young people, who weren’t around forty-five years ago, of what happened on that day in Selma?
FAYA ROSE TOURÉ: And a lot of them, for the first time, heard about Jim Crow segregation. They didn’t know that Viola Liuzzo -— and her daughter was there. This is the woman from Detroit who lost her life. They didn’t know about Jimmie Lee Jackson. His sister was there. Jimmie Lee Jackson is the young man that was killed in Marion, a veteran who had sacrificed his life for this country, and he was killed, not abroad, but right here. They learned about Amelia Boynton, 104 years old, who crossed that bridge with us, and, as you said, John Lewis and thousands of foot soldiers.
But see, education is the hardest bridge we’ll ever have to cross. In slavery, it was against the law for black children to read. Here we are, 150 years out of slavery, and who is at the bottom of the academic barrel? Black children, Latino children. And why? Because of the policies. No Child Left Behind has kicked our children behind. So we believe that in order to move this country forward, to tap into the true talent and genius of all children, we support President Obama’s demand and his policy that all children be equally educated.
AMY GOODMAN: Faya Rose Touré, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you for being with us and for organizing this remarkable Bridge Crossing Jubilee on the forty-fifth anniversary of Selma.