MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — President Joe Biden will travel to Alabama on Sunday to mark the 58th anniversary of a landmark event of the civil rights movement.
Biden will speak in Selma for the annual remembrance of “Bloody Sunday,” the day in 1965 that white police beat Black civil rights marchers as they attempted to cross the city’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. The White House announced the visit on Tuesday.
The visit comes as the city that served as a crucible of the civil rights movement is fighting to recover from a January tornado. The EF-2 twister, with winds of 130 mph, cut a wide swath and ripped through the city, destroying and severely damaging hundreds of homes.
Biden has twice visited Selma for the annual voting rights commemoration. Three years ago during the 2020 election he spoke at the city’s historic Brown Chapel AME Church hours after strong support from Black voters in South Carolina lifted Biden to his first primary victory. He also visited the city as vice president in 2013. In both stops, Biden warned of erosions to the protections for voting rights won in the city decades ago.
President Barack Obama in 2015 spoke in Selma to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1965 marches.
On March 7, 1965, Alabama state troopers beat and tear-gassed voting-rights demonstrators — including a young John Lewis — as they tried to cross the bridge over the Alabama River. Weeks later, the Rev. Martin Luther King successfully led marchers on the 50-mile march to the state capital of Montgomery.
The marches, and photos of the violent beatings on Bloody Sunday, galvanized Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that struck down impediments to voting by African-Americans and ended all-white rule in the American South.
The annual commemoration has become a regular stop for politicians to pay homage to the fight for voting rights in America and to court Black voters in election years.
Former state Sen. Hank Sanders, who helped start the annual Bloody Sunday commemoration decades ago in Selma, said a “fuller democracy sprung forth” out of the city, but it is also a city that has struggled in recent years. The population has dwindled to about 18,000 and nearly one in three people live in poverty.
“Selma was in great need before the tornado hit. Selma is even greater need now,” Sanders said
Rep. Terri Sewell, the only Democrat in Alabama’s congressional delegation, urged Biden, when she greeted him following his State of the Union address, to visit Selma to see the tornado damage “first-hand and to help Selma.”