Led by four black members of Congress, about 2,000 marchers retraced a historic path across a bridge to mark the 30th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march.
The marchers included Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King III and Rep. John Lewis, who was beaten bloody by troopers during the first march.
Earlier, two of the men who led the original march received keys to the city from the mayor - then a segregationist, now an ally of blacks.
On March 7, 1965, white lawmen beat and gassed hundreds of marchers trying to cross Edmund Pettus Bridge. Footage of the beatings ran on national television, sparking outrage and leading to passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act, which outlawed literacy tests in many Southern states.
Two weeks later, Martin Luther King Jr. led an even bigger march all the way to the steps of the state Capitol in Montgomery.
On Sunday, a cold rain fell on marchers gathering outside the National Voting Rights Institute to walk once again across the bridge named for a Confederate general. The group also planned to make the 54-mile journey to Montgomery for a rally on Saturday; about 100 of them will walk.
“It’s gratifying to see all the changes that have occurred and to see the number of black registered voters and black elected officials in the state of Alabama,” said Lewis, a Georgia Democrat.
Still, there was little sense that the battle has been won.
“Once again we’re having to fight for our voting rights,” said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, blasting courts that have struck down majority black congressional districts.
“The courts are invalidating congressional districts ostensibly because of the shape of the district, but it’s really the shade of the representative they’re concerned about,” Lowery said.
Lowery, Lewis, Jesse Jackson and Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., joined in ceremonies at the Brown Chapel AME Church, where the first march also began. McKinney’s district is one of those being challenged.
Jackson did not march. The others did, including Reps. Earl Hilliard, D-Ala., and Eva Clayton, D-N.C.