SELMA — On Sunday, the annual commemorative march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge marked the 53rd anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a pivotal event in the Civil Rights movement.
In 1965, John Lewis, now a Georgia Democratic United States congressman, and Hosea Williams led the march. They peacefully led 600 marchers from the Brown Chapel AME Church to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The march turned violent as the marchers crossed the bridge and were confronted by Alabama State Troopers, who beat and gassed them.
The marchers’ message was heard as Americans across the country saw the bloody event unfold on their televisions. Many believe the televised, brutal confrontation on the Edmund Pettus Bridge led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a law reducing barriers to minority voting.
In recent years, the annual commemorative event has been a favorite of Democratic politicians who aspire for higher office. Even though Alabama has a less critical role in national Democratic Party politics given its Republican streak, the Selma event has been an early stop for Democratic Party presidential hopefuls.
In 2007, shortly before the epic battle between then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton kicked off for the 2008 Democratic nod, both Obama and Clinton, along with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, appeared in Selma and participated in all of the ceremonial events.
Clinton was perhaps most remembered for her recitation of a hymn by Rev. James Cleveland, which she performed with a cringeworthy thick accent while speaking at Selma’s First Baptist Church, saying, “I don’t feel no ways tired.”
Obama edged out Clinton for the nomination and went on to defeat Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.
In Democratic intraparty races, winning the black vote is essential. It’s a big reason Clinton was able to defeat Sen. Bernie Sanders, her only legitimate competition in the 2016 race for the party’s nomination, by such a wide margin in the South.
For national Democrats seeking to get acquainted with Southern African-American voters, the annual march in Selma is considered to be one of the best opportunities to do so.
Perhaps that is why U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) was an active participant at last Sunday’s event.
Harris was a featured speaker at the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee weekend’s penultimate event, the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast, and was a participant in Sunday’s bridge crossing. She frequently posed for selfies and was often seen accompanied by her new colleague, Alabama Sen. Doug Jones.
Jones, who has national credentials among Democrats given his upset victory in Republican Alabama last year, was a beneficiary of strong support within the black community. Without the high turnout among African-Americans last December, Jones would not have beaten Roy Moore to become U.S. senator.
In the post-2016 presidential election autopsy, Democrats blamed poor turnout by black voters in swing states. That is likely the reason Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Poor voter participation in the inner cities of Philadelphia and Detroit and high turnout in rural areas of those states was undoubtedly an advantage for Trump.
Democrats had counted on generating the same black turnout as they had with Obama in the previous two presidential election cycles. That was indeed an oversight by Clinton’s campaign and her allies in the media that predicted a Hillary landslide.
As a preventive measure, Democrats could be looking to nominate a black candidate to oppose Trump in the 2020 general election. Kamala Harris would check a lot of boxes. She’s a female. She’s a minority. She will have served not only as a U.S. senator but also as her state’s attorney general.
It also doesn’t hurt that her home state of California has the most Democratic Party convention delegates and the most electoral votes.
As a Democratic presidential candidate, she is appealing and formidable for those reasons.
A 2020 run was probably a big reason why California’s freshman junior U.S. senator had such a prominent role in Selma last weekend.
Two weeks after the “Bloody Sunday” march in 1965, the 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery began. The march started at a time when tensions were high, and any threat was thought to be possible. Marchers endured cold and rainy weather as they made their way from Dallas County along a two-lane U.S. Highway 80 in Lowndes County and into Montgomery to the Alabama Capitol.
Upon their arrival in Montgomery, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “How Long, Not Long” speech and attempted to give a petition to then-Gov. George Wallace, despite Alabama State Troopers blocking the way.
On Sunday, dignitaries, presumably including Sen. Kamala Harris, purporting to continue the fight for civil rights were escorted in, around and out of Selma back to Montgomery along that same U.S. Highway 80 by Alabama State Troopers.
That’s certainly a remarkable sign of how different things are now compared to then.