President signs Selma Congressional gold medal bill
- Published: Mar 12, 2015, 8 PM
President Barack Obama signed a bill to award a congressional gold medal to those who marched in an event that paved the way for prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.
The bill’s full title, “A bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers who participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or in the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in March of 1965, which served as a catalyst for the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” was introduced in the House of Representatives as H.R. 431 on Jan. 21 by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala. The bill became Public Law 114-5 on March 7.
A companion bill, S. 527, was introduced in the Senate on Feb. 12.
In the findings, which provide historical background, the legislation notes, “March 7, 2015, will mark 50 years since the brave Foot Soldiers of the Voting Rights Movement first attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery on ‘Bloody Sunday’ in protest against the denial of their right to vote, and were brutally assaulted by Alabama state troopers.”
On that day, more than 500 voting rights marchers — known as “Foot Soldiers” — gathered on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., “in peaceful protest of the denial of their most sacred and constitutionally protected right — the right to vote.”
As they crossed the bridge, the “Foot Soldiers” were confronted by Alabama state troopers who responded with force, and the event was covered by news stations around the nation. The day would be known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Two days later, Dr. Martin Luther King led nearly 2,500 people for a second, peaceful march, in an event later known as “Turnaround Tuesday.”
The legislation adds, “Fearing for the safety of these Foot Soldiers who received no protection from federal or state authorities during this second march, Dr. King led the marchers to the base of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and stopped. Dr. King kneeled and offered a prayer of solidarity and walked back to the church.”
In response to these marches and other events, President Johnson announced a plan for a voting rights bill to secure voting rights for all U.S. citizens on March 15, 1965.
Two days later, “U.S. District Judge Frank M. Johnson ruled the Foot Soldiers had a First Amendment right to petition the government through peaceful protest, and ordered federal agents to provide full protection to the Foot Soldiers during the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March,” according to the legislation.
The bill authorizing the medal added, “On March 21, 1965, under the court order, the U.S. Army, the federalized Alabama National Guard, and countless federal agents and marshals escorted nearly 8,000 Foot Soldiers from the start of their heroic journey in Selma, Alabama to their safe arrival on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol Building on March 25, 1965.”
The secretary of the Treasury has broad discretion regarding the design of the gold medal, which is to be given to the Selma Interpretative Center in Selma, Ala.
Bronze duplicates of the medal will be made available to collectors to purchase from the U.S. Mint.
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