Yesterday marked the 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a day when about 600 non-violent civil rights marchers left to walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. They had just gone a few blocks when Alabama state troopers launched tear gas at the crowds, attacked the marchers with billy clubs, and charged them on horseback, thus driving them back to Selma. Two days later, Martin Luther King Jr. led a march as far as the bridge where the beatings and violence had taken place. Finally, on March 21, about 3,200 people set out again on the 54-mile journey to Montgomery, this time with federal protection to prevent the violence they had encountered before. By the time they reached Montgomery four days later, their numbers had grown to more than 25,000 people.
The march took place after years of work for voter registration and for integration. Those who advocated for their rights faced beatings, shootings and other violence that had gone on for years. Even thought the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had passed, those civil rights had not been realized. One of the impacts of Bloody Sunday and the other marches was that it changed the emotional tone of America’s response to the civil rights movement. American’s eyes were opened in a new way to the ugly brutality of the police and the humanity of the marchers. In the months that followed, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other important gains were made.
One of the people beaten badly on Bloody Sunday was John Lewis, now a member of Congress representing Georgia’s 5th district, and someone who has dedicated his life to fighting all forms of discrimination. He is one of ENDA’s cosponsors. He had been involved in the voting rights activism that led to the Selma to Montgomery march in the early 60s, organizing people to go to the courthouse to register to vote. Yesterday, as part of the commemorations, Congressman Lewis led a group back over the bridge over the Alabama River where he had been attacked by state troopers many years ago.
Thinking back to the events of the Selma to Montgomery march remind us that change–genuine, lasting changes to end discrimination–take time, sacrifice and ongoing dedication. The racism that led to the beatings and violence has not ended yet, although the country has seen remarkable changes and gains to American civil rights. The advances of the civil rights movement have improved our country in ways beyond measure, moving us closer to the ideal of democracy that Americans cherish.
Securing basic rights for transgender Americans–including the job protections in ENDA–has taken many years and will continue to call upon us to take action as work to pass this bill. On the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, it is an opportunity to commit ourselves to ending discrimination in all its forms, against our community and all others.