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Remembering Selma: Thousands Mark 'Bloody Sunday'


SELMA, Ala. – Over the weekend much of the country's attention turned to a pivotal moment 50 years ago: a brutal clash known as "Bloody Sunday" that made civil rights history and eventually political history.

Black and white, young and old, thousands returned to the port city of Selma, situated along the Alabama River, to honor the courageous men and women who changed a city in the Deep South and an entire nation.

That change was made apparent by the diversity of the crowd that gathered during the weekend to reenact the historic march, when local and state police used tear gas and billy clubs to halt a group of peaceful protestors demanding the right to vote.

The event shocked the country, stirred America's conscience, and paved the way for President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the landmark Voting Rights Act into law in August 1965.

Five decades later, law enforcement agencies walked the bridge again, this time leading a march in unity, rather than trying to stop it.

"Just think about all that people went through to get us where we are," said Karl Jones of Oxford, Alabama. "So I just wanted to give my part, and this is like giving back."

Father Nathanael Symeonides is the director of Inter-Orthodox & Ecumenical Relations with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Click below for his thoughts on the significance of Bloody Sunday:

For many it was not only a chance to look back, it was also an opportunity to look ahead.

"The people who sacrificed 50 years ago made it possible for many of us to be in Congress today," said Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus. "We're celebrating that fact and also recognizing the fact that there's a lot more work to do."

Speaking at the foot of the historic bridge – alongside Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who suffered a fractured skull from the Bloody Sunday assault – President Barack Obama credited the "foot soldiers" of justice who opened doors for him and countless others.

"Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down a wall," Obama told the crowd. "Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid."

"From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place," Obama continued.

The president also cautioned the audience to remember that the work is far from over, referencing the recent Justice Department report on Ferguson, Missouri, voting rights, and low voter participation.

An estimated 40,000 people came to Selma for the jubilee celebration, including around 100 members of Congress – the largest-ever delegation to attend. It also included the greatest number of Republican lawmakers, though they were outnumbered by Democrats.

"There will be some day that when they'll come commemorate this and there won't be the folks that actually walked across the bridge being able to cross with you," Rep. Robert Aderholt, an Alabama Republican, explained.

Vera Collins Booker, a longtime Selma resident and a retired nurse, lived through that dark day and treated the wounded. She told CBN News she never expected to see the changes that would take place over the last 50 years.

"We all were trying to vote and trying to get registered," Collins Booker recalled. "We all did. And now and now I never miss a time to go vote. I don't care if it's raining or whatever it is. I'm going to always vote."

Collins Booker, now in a wheelchair, was one of many who met outside Brown Chapel AME Church ahead of the memorial march.

It was at the historic church, located on Martin Luther King Avenue, where the first steps were taken in the march that led to Bloody Sunday. Some participants said the commemorative events served as a reminder that the Civil Rights movement grew out of the church.

"The religious component of it is too often underestimated," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., explained. "People marched. They said their prayers. They got on their knees. They sang hymns, and they went out and believed they were right."

"They made a decision they would not respond with violence," Sessions continued. "And to me that was a blessed thing. The Lord's hand was in that."

For the thousands who attended the weekend events, it was a chance to reflect on a history defined by division, recommit to healing and unity, and pledge to march on in the deep footprints left by the legacy of those civil rights heroes – now remembered as American heroes.

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