MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — At a rally marking the anniversary of the landmark Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights, speakers attempted to connect the 1965 struggle and modern fights over voting laws, labor organization and healthcare access.
The Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, told the crowd that new state laws around the U.S. putting restrictions on voting may disproportionately impact minorities but actually harm everyone.
“The fight for voting rights might target Black and brown people, but this that we see today is not Jim Crow. It is James Crow, Esquire,” Barber said.
The “Fight For The Vote” rally was the last of a series of events marking a defining moment of the civil rights movement.
On March 7, 1965, voting rights marchers were beaten by white police in Selma, Alabama while attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Days later, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march from Selma to Montgomery. The events helped galvanize passage of the U.S. Voting Rights Act later that same year.
The commemorations come as some states seek to roll back expanded early and mail-in voting access.
Meanwhile, efforts have been unsuccessful to restore a key section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval for any changes to voting procedures.
Speakers at the rally included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a leading figure in the movement and Bernard Lafayette, who is lesser known but was an early civil rights organizer and freedom rider in the South.
Jackson, who participated in the Selma to Montgomery march, challenged the young people in the crowd to make sure they are registered to vote.
“One vote can make a difference,” Jackson said.
In his March 25, 1965 speech outside the Alabama Capitol, King said southern segregation was rooted in ruling class desire to keep poor Blacks and whites pitted against each other instead of becoming a powerful voting force. Barber, invoking that portion of King’s address, argued that is continuing.
“The South is not a red state or a red region. The South is a voter suppression region,” Barber said.
Several groups including, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Black Voters Matter and the national labor groups, walked the original route of the march Selma to Montgomery in the days leading up to the rally.
Cliff Albright, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said pressure on those in power led to the passage Voting Rights Act in 1965 and can do so again in 2022.
“What our history shows us, is that when we believe, and when we work together, there ain’t nothing we can’t do,” Albright said.