On the eve of the 45th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march that galvanized support for the Voting Rights Act, a congressional delegation led by U.S. Rep. John Lewis laid a wreath at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery to honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives during the civil rights movement.
About 150 people took part in the solemn ceremony on March 6.
“We feel it’s fitting and appropriate to come here,” Lewis said after the ceremony. “This whole area is so holy and so sacred.” A veteran of the civil rights movement, the Georgia congressman was beaten by state troopers during the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march in 1965.
Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen reminded the crowd gathered for the ceremony that the march for social justice isn’t over.
“The civil rights movement, the great marching for justice in our country, did not begin with the decision Brown v. Board of Education, and it did not end with Dr. King’s death,” Cohen said. “It continues in all of us.”
The Civil Rights Memorial, located at the SPLC's offices in Montgomery, is within walking distance of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, and the Alabama Capitol, where the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march ended.
Among those in the crowd was Bob Adelman, a noted photographer of the civil rights movement.
“It was very clear to me that I had one eye on the viewfinder and the other eye on history,” Adelman said of the movement. “I knew that we were changing the world. And we have, but there is so much more to do.”
During the ceremony, blues singer Bettie Mae Fikes sang “We Shall Overcome” while those in the crowd, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, joined hands and sang.
The congressional delegation was part of an annual pilgrimage sponsored by the Faith & Politics Institute. More than 100 members of Congress have taken part in the pilgrimages since the institute began leading them in 1998.
The annual three-day excursion is designed to bring people together across political, religious and racial lines, and to offer opportunities for dialogue. Participants visit historic civil rights sites in Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma. The trip culminates in a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 1965 voting rights marches.
Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana were the honorary co-leaders of the 2010 Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage..
The Civil Rights Memorial features the names of 40 martyrs of the civil rights movement. They were murdered because they were active in the movement; killed as acts of terror aimed at intimidating blacks and civil rights activists; or, their deaths, like that of Emmett Till, helped galvanize the movement by demonstrating the brutality faced by African Americans in the South.
The memorial was commissioned by the Southern Poverty Law Center and designed by Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It was dedicated in 1989.