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Pandemic Interferes With Reenactment Of 1965's Bloody Sunday March

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The first weekend in March is when thousands of people gather in Selma to participate in a reenactment of the 1965 Bloody Sunday march. Hundreds of Black activists were beaten by Alabama state troopers that day as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, marching for civil rights and voting rights. Due to the pandemic this year, it was a much smaller group that made the symbolic crossing. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott accompanied them.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: There were two bridge crossings. There was a virtual march open to participants around the world, and there was a small group of marchers in masks who sang as they crossed the bridge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MARCHERS: (Singing) I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.

GASSIOTT: At the top of the bridge, Bernard Lafayette, an activist and one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, remembered the original 1965 marchers in a prayer.

BERNARD LAFAYETTE JR: No, Lord, as they stepped across this bridge, faced all of the difficulties, they did not stop there. They kept on going. Oh, Lord. They did overcome.

GASSIOTT: On the other side, a ceremony was held to honor Jimmie Lee Jackson, a civil rights activist whose 1965 death inspired the original march. Also remembered were movement leaders who died in 2020 - Reverend C.T. Vivian, Reverend Joseph Lowery, attorney Bruce Boynton and Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

TERRI SEWELL: It's with grace and honor that I get into good trouble, necessary trouble.

GASSIOTT: Lewis' catch phrase was cited by Congresswoman Terri Sewell, whose district includes Selma. She's vowed to fight for his signature issue, voting rights.

SEWELL: That he gave us the calling that still resonates and rings in so many of our ears - to never give up, to never give in, to keep the faith, to keep our eyes on the prize.

GASSIOTT: On a videoconference earlier in the day, President Joe Biden also invoked Lewis' legacy. Biden announced a new executive order to promote voter registration and participation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have that vote counted. If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote.

GASSIOTT: Civil rights attorney Faya Rose Toure, who organized and led this year's march, says it's crucial to draw parallels between 1965 and the present day.

FAYA ROSE TOURE: Until we embrace the idea that everybody is human, that everybody has the right to be an American citizen, to be a human citizen, then we will continue to have to cross those bridges.

GASSIOTT: And Toure says that's why it's important to come back to Selma each year.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Selma, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.