Huge Crowd Walks in 'Bloody Sunday' March in Selma

CNN/ Newswire | 3/9/2015, 8:03 a.m.
Crowds massed at a bridge in Selma, Alabama, Sunday to remember and reflect upon the sacrifices of another crowd that ...
President Obama, Congressman John Lewis, First Lady Michelle Obama and others armed in armed on Edmund Pettus bridge in commemorating for Selma 50

By Moni Basu, Slma Shelbayah and Ben Brumfield


SELMA, Alabama (CNN) -- Crowds massed at a bridge in Selma, Alabama, Sunday to remember and reflect upon the sacrifices of another crowd that gathered at the same bridge half a century ago on a day that came to be known as "Bloody Sunday."

Walkers marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the afternoon to commemorate those freedom-marchers who were clubbed and tear-gassed by state troopers as they peacefully filed across on March 7, 1965. The crowd was massive. It was shoulder to shoulder near the bridge and several blocks away. There were so many people that walking is a bit misleading -- people just really moved inch by inch along the way.

The protest decades ago against the denial of civil rights to Americans based solely on the color of their skin, and the television coverage of the bludgeoning dealt them, hastened the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

On Sunday at Selma's Brown Chapel AME, a historically black church, leaders in the religious and political realm as well as community organizers gathered to hear speeches, sing hymns and remember what happened 50 years ago. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in the audience. Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke, as did Rev. Al Sharpton.

An important figure in the decades-long fight for civil rights, former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young remembered the struggle in the 1960s but wanted everyone to keep pushing forward and thinking about achieving economic equality today.

"We've got to focus on ourselves not as problems but as visionaries," he said.

"We have come a long, long way, but I have enjoyed every bit of it," Young remarked.

Several people remarked at how much it meant that the day before, on Saturday, America's first African-American President, Barack Obama, made a rousing speech on racial progress in a diverse country.

He said that the struggle against discrimination continues today. Looking back, the "Bloody Sunday" march was triggered when a law officer shot a black man dead the month before.

But it was about more -- the right to vote for all Americans. About 600 people were going to march 50 miles to the state capital in Montgomery before they were forcibly stopped.

Sunday's festivities started with a breakfast and end late with a dance. A string of parades, receptions, reflections, films and discussions will fill the time in between. The commemoration marking 50 years since "Bloody Sunday" continues on Monday.

'Getting closer'

"Our march is not yet finished. But we are getting closer," Obama said Saturday, his words echoing into a crowd of thousands lined up in front of him.

Obama emphasized that a day of commemoration is not enough to repay the debt paid by the marchers who were beaten 50 years ago as they demonstrated for voting rights.

"If Selma taught us anything, it's that our work is never done," the President said near Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The President said that what civil rights marchers did years ago "will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate."