President Joe Biden visits Selma for Bridge Crossing Jubilee

The president’s visit marked the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 10:44 AM CST|Updated: Mar. 5, 2023 at 11:56 PM CST
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SELMA, Ala. (WSFA) - President Joe Biden flew to Alabama on Sunday to take part in the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. He gave a speech at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma before locking arms with supporters and walking the span of the historic bridge.

Bloody Sunday gets its name from the events of March 7, 1965. A group of peaceful protestors seeking voting rights tried to cross over Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge on a march to the Alabama Capitol in Montgomery. The marchers were violently beaten by law enforcement waiting for them on the bridge. The incident sparked national outrage and later led to the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

It was Biden’s third trip to the west Alabama city. He previously spoke at historic Brown Chapel AME Church in 2020 while trying to win his party’s nomination for president. In 2013, he attended while serving as vice president.

The president’s journey to Alabama lasted a little more than five hours. Air Force One touched down at Maxwell Air Force Base at 1:15 p.m. Biden was greeted by several officials upon arrival, but did not speak to waiting media before quickly boarding Marine One for the quick flight to Selma.

Just after 2 p.m., the president stepped off Marine One at Craig Air Field Landing Zone in Selma, got into the presidential limousine and traveled to an area near the bridge where large crowds had been waiting in the heat to hear him speak for several hours. Several in the crowd had to be transported from the ceremonies with apparent heat exhaustion.

Biden was the last of several to speak, following some including Selma native and U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr, and Charles Mauldin, who was just 17 when he joined others to cross the bridge on Bloody Sunday.

The president’s speech focused on the right to vote, and how that right remains under assault, stating “the conservative Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act over the years” and warning that there’s been ”a wave of states and dozens and dozens of anti-voting laws fueled by the ‘Big Lie’ and the election deniers now elected to office,” since 2020.

A number of well known individuals were in attendance for the president’s visit and speech. Some of those names included:

  • HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge
  • Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07)
  • Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr
  • Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed
  • Reverend Jesse Jackson
  • Martin Luther King III
  • Fred Gray, Civil Rights Attorney and Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient (2022)
  • Dr. Charles Steele, President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
  • Reverend Al Sharpton, Founder, National Action Network
  • Charles Mauldin, Foot Soldier, Student Leader of the Bloody Sunday March on March 7, 1965
  • Family members of the late Rep. John Lewis (GA-05)

Shortly after the president’s speech, which lasted approximately 20 minutes, he and a number of others locked arms and, at 4 p.m., began a procession across the bridge with one member of the group leading with spiritual hymns. A packed crowd watched as they disappeared over the span.

An hour after his march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Biden was back in Montgomery where the plane that typically carries the vice president was waiting to whisk him back to Washington.

Biden’s trip comes a year after Vice President Kamala Harris made the journey to Dallas County for the 57th anniversary of the historic civil rights event. She previously traveled to Selma in 2018 for commemorations while a sitting U.S. senator.

WATCH BELOW - 2022 coverage of Vice President Harris’ trip to Selma

Selma and Dallas County are still recovering after being slammed by recent storms, including an EF-2 tornado that destroyed a significant portion of the historic city. Despite the devastation, former Alabama state Sen. and events organizer Hank Sanders recently reiterated that the commemoration and annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee would go on as scheduled.

“I am thrilled that President Biden has accepted my invitation to visit Selma for the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday,” said U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala. “As Selma continues to recover from the January 12th storms, President Biden’s presence will send a clear message that our community is not alone and shows that the federal government will continue to be a partner in rebuilding Selma and Dallas County. I look forward to welcoming the President to my hometown as we reflect on the sacrifices of the Foot Soldiers in the name of equality and justice for all.”

“It will be a pleasure to say thank you in person for making the decision to amend the Alabama Disaster Declaration to include 100 percent reimbursement for a 30-day period,” Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. said. “This single decision has made a significant difference in our beloved City recovery. As visitors prepare to commemorate this annual event, we are prepared to discuss our progress and vision for Selma. Although we have a long road to recovery, we have come back from far worse. We are Selma Strong!

Selma citizens are looking forward to President Joe Biden's planned visit for the anniversary of "Bloody Sunday."

Gov. Kay Ivey’s office said she wouldn’t be in attendance for 2023′s commemoration but noted she “is proud that Alabamians – and people from around the country and even globe – remember the Selma to Montgomery March each year,” and added that “she welcomes President Biden and the many others who are traveling to Alabama for this year’s commemorative events.”

WATCH BELOW: 2022 interview with Annie Pearl Avery, an original foot soldier of Blood Sunday.

Annie Pearl Avery vividly remembers the events of "Blood Sunday" because she's an original foot soldier.

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