Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) led a congressional delegation down to Selma, Ala., today for the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday civil rights march.
It the first Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage for Scott, an annual event led by Civil Right Era veteran Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
Scott, the first African-American senator elected from the South since Reconstruction, and Brown kicked off the weekend by introducing a resolution before leaving Washington to commemorate the three 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery with a postage stamp.
Co-sponsors of the resolution are Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
“Fifty years ago, the nation watched as one of the defining events of the 20th century unfolded in Alabama,” said Scott in a statement. “As we prepare to mark the 50th anniversary of those historic marches from Selma to Montgomery, it is incredibly important to preserve the stories of those who marched and share their courage with younger generations. Each of these brave men and women risked life and limb to ensure that our country continued on the path to a more perfect union, and for their work, we should all be grateful.”
“The brave women and men who marched from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago risked their lives to demand full and equal participation in our democracy,” Brown said. “We must honor their legacy and continue the fight to ensure that all Americans have the freedom and opportunity to exercise their constitutional rights.”
More than 100 lawmakers are expected to take part in the pilgrimage, which includes stops in Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, and Marion.
Portman is one of those, and explained why in an op-ed this week.
“Even as we celebrate what we have overcome, we must not forget how much further we have to go,” Portman wrote. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., standing on the steps of the capitol of Alabama in Montgomery at the conclusion of the march from Selma, said, ‘The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.’ He was right, but it does not bend on its own. That is the work of us all.”
Portman noted that “while Jim Crow and institutionalized racism were long ago consigned to the dustbin of history, challenges not quite as visible but just as insidious remain.”
“Too many children still grow up in poverty,” he said. “Too many families are broken by drug abuse or by the absence of parents who are in and out of prison.”
The office of Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), who is also attending the commemoration, told Politico on Thursday that 23 Republicans from both chambers were signed up for the trip. Both Roby and Scott were reportedly lobbying their colleagues to attend.
Congressional Black Caucus members, though, said they were disappointed that GOP leaders in Congress won’t be attending, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “The Republicans always talk about trying to change their brand and be more appealing to minority folks and be in touch with the interests of African-Americans. This is very disappointing,” said CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.).
President Obama and former President George W. Bush will be there.
“The irony of nearly 100 Republican and Democratic Members of Congress going to Selma on the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act this weekend will not be lost on the country,” said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). “The Voting Rights Act that we will commemorate has been dismembered by the Supreme Court, and only the Members of Congress on this trip and their colleagues can reshape and restore it. Yet, we go empty handed without a bill that could be the occasion for a real celebration of even the promise of a bill.”