Congressman Jared Huffman

Representing the 2nd District of California

What I Saw in Selma

Mar 12, 2015

Dear Friend,

Fifty years ago, Americans marched across a bridge in Selma, Alabama for equality and justice. Though they marched peacefully, many were struck down and beaten by police on that "Bloody Sunday.” But the photos and stories that came out of that peaceful protest awakened the nation, and helped spur Congress to pass one of the crowning achievements of our democracy: the Voting Rights Act.

Last weekend, Americans once again marched peacefully across that bridge—this time, though, the marchers were joined by the President of the United States. What a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come, and remind us that America's march to equality is not yet complete.

I was fortunate to be in Selma for the commemoration—alongside civil rights heroes like John Lewis, who I am proud to serve with in the House of Representatives.

Shoulder to shoulder with members of Congress, civil rights leaders, and everyday Americans, I heard President Obama’s amazing speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday." If you haven’t heard it, his message is worth a listen. Watch it HERE.

Listening to President Obama speaking on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

President Obama reminded us that the “single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the People.’ ‘We Shall Overcome.’ ‘Yes We Can.’ That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.”

President Obama is right: it is only when we work together that America succeeds.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Lucy Baines Johnson on the bridge, daughter of President Johnson—who signed the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965. She told some amazing stories from the era, and shared with us that the first pen from signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act was given to Senator Everett Dirksen, a Republican, because LBJ felt that Dirksen's support for the bill was so critical to it becoming law.

With Lucy Baines Johnson, daughter of President Johnson on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

In the wake of a disastrous Supreme Court decision that drastically weakened the Voting Rights Act and invalidated a key provision protecting the right to vote, it is important to remember Mr. Dirksen’s legacy.

Right now, a bipartisan bill to restore the Voting Rights Act, authored by Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, is awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives. The bill was never considered in the 113th Congress, so I hope that House leadership hears the message of Selma and takes up Everett Dirksen’s mantle so that we can work together to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act.

From our arrival in Alabama, to listening to Rep. John Lewis speak to us at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, to President Obama's amazing speech, to the moments on the bridge with so many national leaders, this was an incredible experience.

I left Alabama filled with inspiration, new perspective, and a firm resolve to tackle the unfinished work of the civil rights movement.

Jared Huffman