Attorney General Garland tells Alabama’s Bloody Sunday service that voting rights are under attack

Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland are among those marking the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.

A vehicle passes by the town welcome sign, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Selma, Ala. Events commemorating the 59th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday voting rights march in 1965 will culminate with a bridge crossing in Selma, Ala, on Sunday, March 3.

A vehicle passes by the town welcome sign, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Selma, Ala. Events commemorating the 59th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday voting rights march in 1965 will culminate with a bridge crossing in Selma, Ala, on Sunday, March 3. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Attorney General Merrick Garland told parishioners at a Selma church service commemorating the 59th anniversary of the attack by Alabama law officers on Civil Rights demonstrators that voting rights are endangered in much of the nation.

Garland told a Bloody Sunday service that decisions by the 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. Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the annual march across the bridge on Sunday afternoon.

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

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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 worshippers 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 will speak at a rally after the march.

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“During her speech, the Vice President will honor the legacy of the civil rights movement, address the ongoing work to achieve justice for all, and encourage Americans to continue the fight for fundamental freedoms that are under attack throughout the country,” the White House said.

Harris joined the march in 2022, calling the site hallowed ground and giving a speech calling on Congress to defend democracy by protecting people’s 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 Clyburn, a Democrat of 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 currently 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 7th of 1965,” Clyburn said.

“We are at an inflection point in this country,” he added. “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.”


Associated Press reporters Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Stephen Groves in Washington, D.C., and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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