Selma, Ala.- About 100 members of Congress, as well as former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush, as well civic and religious leaders stood under the sun at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, as President Barack Obama delivered his remarks.
Over 40,000 people attended the event commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the historic March on Selma, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in which Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America also participated, along with other civil rights leaders on March 15, 1965. The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), was represented by Supreme President Phillip T. Frangos and many members of the organization that travel to Selma.
“Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer,” Obama said, standing near the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where police and state troopers beat and used tear gas against peaceful marchers who were advocating against racial discrimination at the voting booth.
President Obama criticized efforts to limit voting rights in a clash between Republicans and Democrats across the country.
“Right now, in 2015, fifty years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed,” he said. “Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence … stands weakened.”
“The Americans who crossed this bridge were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation,” Obama said.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights icon who partook in the historic march and was beaten so hard, he got a fractured skull, spoke before the president.
“This city, on the banks of the Alabama River, gave birth to a movement that changed this nation forever. Our country will never, ever be the same because of what happened on this bridge,” Lewis said.
Obama expressed solidarity with those who marched alongside Lewis.
“We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice,” he said.
After speaking, Obama crossed the Pettus Bridge, arms linked with Lewis. The first family, the Bushes and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy joined for the walk.
The speech from the nation’s first black president comes at a time when racial discrimination in the U.S. still makes regular headlines. This past week, a Justice Department investigation found patterns of racism from police in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed black teen was killed by a white officer over the summer.
Archbishop Demetrios arrived in Alabama on Friday to take part in the events and he had the opportunity to greet President Obama and other dignitaries. Speaking to the press he said it was a very moving day and he remembered the events of the Bloody Sunday 50 years ago.
“I was a student at Harvard University when these events happened and then few years later when the horrible assassination of Dr Martin Luther King took place. But I could have never imagined that 50 years later I would be year as the successor of late Archbishop Iakovos who marched next to Dr King”.
The Greek Orthodox Church has always been an advocate for equality and continues to fight against racism, prejudice, discrimination and xenophobia with fervent love for God and all people, a press release by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese says.To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Selma, and to highlight the efforts of His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory to advance the Civil Rights Movement, the Holy Archdiocese has launched a website with a plethora of historical resources and announcements for upcoming events around this most important time in our nation’s history.
AHEPA Supreme President Phillip T. Frangos, in a written statement said “we are proud to participate at events to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of this historic moment in the Civil Rights Movement in America in solidarity with the African American community. We are participating in honor of those who bravely marched fifty years ago, including Dr. King, Archbishop Iakovos, a proud AHEPA member; and all civil rights leaders. AHEPA remains committed to the principles and rights that these bold Americans fought to uphold and secure.”
On Sat., March 7, 2015, Archbishop Demetrios of America visited Selma, Ala., and joined other civic and religious leaders at the historic Brown Chapel AME Church.
Early in the Morning of Sun., March 8, 2015, His Eminence was expected to deliver remarks on God, Struggle, and Unity at the Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King Unity Breakfast. In the afternoon he will participate in the annual march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, commemorating “Bloody Sunday.”