While U.S. Rep. John Lewis continues to fight pancreatic cancer, he has not slowed down one bit in his passion for equal rights. Yesterday, on the 55th anniversary of Selma’s Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge crossing, John Lewis surprised the crowd with an appearance and rousingly powerful speech.
CNN.com reports, Lewis rode in a car across the bridge, but got out to address the crowd.
“I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to give in. We’re going to continue to fight. We need your prayers now more than ever before. We must use the vote as a nonviolent instrument or tool to redeem the soul of America,” said the 80-year old Congressman.
Lewis also wrote on Twitter, “We were beaten, we were tear-gassed. I thought I was going to die on this bridge. But somehow and some way, God almighty helped me here. We cannot give up now. We cannot give in. We must keep the faith, keep our eyes on the prize.”
On March 7, 1965, an estimated 600 voting and civil rights activists began the 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery in protest of the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a Black man who was fatally shot three weeks prior by a state trooper while trying to protect his mother at a civil rights demonstration.
After the group reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, over the Alabama River, they were met by a hostile front of state troopers and deputies armed with tear gas and billy clubs. The state officials ordered the protesters to turn around and head back to Selma, but they refused. Officers then unleashed the tear gas and viciously beat many of the protesters including Lewis. Over 50 people were hospitalized. At only 25 years old, Lewis endured a skull fracture.
The event would come to be known as Bloody Sunday. Civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would help organize subsequent marches to the state capitol. Finally, after two failed attempts, an estimated 25,000 protesters under the protection of a U.S. National Guard convoy arrived peacefully in Montgomery on March 25, 1965. The Selma marches gave way to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, on August 6, which guaranteed every American the right to register to vote.
Since that day, the march has been reincarnated numerous times including in 2015 when then President Barack Obama delivered his speech on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 50th anniversary of the march.