Congress honored the “foot soldiers” of the civil rights marches from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery in March 1965 on Wednesday with the Congressional Gold Medal, with the ceremony providing a rare bipartisan moment for a place riven with partisan strife. “While we can never truly repay the Foot Soldiers … pay tribute to them by remembering to vote in every election, every election,” Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., said in her remarks. “Selma is now. There is still much work to be done.” Sewell sponsored the legislation to award the medal to the men and women who marched with Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who sponsored the Senate version with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and was born in Hybart, near Selma, reflected on the complicated history of his state in very personal terms during his remarks at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall. “Certainly I feel like I should have stepped forward more,” he said.
Among those honored with the medal was Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. Family members of Martin Luther King Jr. accepted the medal on his behalf.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., delivered opening remarks and welcomed the medal’s recipients. Among those joining Ryan were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sessions and Booker, along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Sessions, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and Sewell and Lewis.
Sewell recalled when she took the late civil rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson, who was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma with Lewis during the march, to the 2015 State of the Union. She said when President Barack Obama met her, he said, “I know that I am president of these United States because of you.” She concluded her statements with a call to strengthen the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
“I stand here today because you stood there then … because you didn’t let nobody turn you around,” Booker said in his remarks to the foot soldiers.
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