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
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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