03/09/2009

Congressional Delegation Honors Martyrs at SPLC's Civil Rights Memorial

Nearly 30 members of Congress joined veterans of the civil rights movement, clergy and others at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery on March 7 to honor the martyrs whose names are inscribed there. About 200 people took part in the ceremony.

"This is a special and sacred space," said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., leader of the delegation and a veteran of the civil rights movement who was beaten during the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965. "They gave their blood, and today we gather here to remember them."

The group placed a large wreath of flowers on the Memorial, and Lewis led everyone in prayer. The Civil Rights Memorial, dedicated in 1989, was built by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Those taking part in the ninth Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama spent three days exploring historic sites, starting in Birmingham and culminating with the annual ceremonial march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to commemorate the 1965 voting rights marches.

Nearly 150 members of the U.S. House and Senate have taken part in the civil rights pilgrimages since the Faith & Politics Institute began leading them in 1998. The pilgrimages bring people together across political, religious and racial lines, offering opportunities for engaged and reflective dialogue. Honorary co-leaders this year were U.S. Reps. Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, and Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican.

Traveling with the group were civil rights leaders and historians such as Bernard Lafayette, Bob Zellner and Bettie Mae Fikes. A new portion of this year's program was its focus on the Jewish contribution to the civil rights movement.

"We explore civil rights sites not only in an effort to bring history alive, but more importantly to stress that the movement was a beginning point for a greater America rather than an end," said Caitlin Jacobs, a spokesperson for the Faith & Politics Institute.

The delegation's visit to the Memorial ended with participants joining hands and singing "We Shall Overcome."

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