Pelosi Remarks at Gold Medal Ceremony Honoring the Selma Foot Soldiers
Contact: Drew Hammill/Evangeline George, 202-226-7616
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks today at the Gold Medal Ceremony honoring the Selma Foot Soldiers of the 1965 voting rights marches in Selma, Alabama. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
“It’s always wonderful to be introduced after the music when everyone is in such a good mood.
“Isn’t it wonderful that as we pay tribute to the Foot Soldiers we had Ms. Morgan’s beautiful – as she called it, ‘My Tribute’. Thank you for enhancing this day so beautifully. Thank you.
Mr. Speaker, as a Member of the Leadership, I am pleased to join you in welcoming all of our guests here today to be here with the Majority Leader of the Senate [Mitch] McConnell, the Democratic Leader Mr. Reid; to be joined by Senator Sessions, Senator Booker, and how pleased we are to be here with [Congresswoman] Terri Sewell. Terri Sewell, every day she’s here with so many friends of our friends from Alabama – every day she’s here, it’s an ‘Alabama splash’.
“You know what that is? The rest will explain it later. In any event, what an honor it is for us to be here with Reverend Frederick Douglass Reese. You so honor us with your presence. I was pleased to hear you speak in Selma. You moved us then; I know you will today. Thank you, Rev. Reese.
“And what an honor it is for us each and every day to serve with [Congressman] John Lewis in the Congress of the United States.
“He is wearing two hats today – well, he’s not wearing any – but he’s wearing two hats today: one as a Foot Soldier and one as a Congressman paying tribute to the Foot Soldiers. John, thank you for blessing our country with your service every day.
“As has been acknowledged and we all know, 51 years ago thousands of men and women stepped forward to lay claim to the most fundamental right in our democracy: the right to vote. You faced discrimination and intimidation. You suffered bigotry and brutality. Still, you marched – for justice, for equality, for the opportunity to cast a ballot and shape the future of our great country.
“And so, as so many movements for justice, the path leading up to the Selma marches was powered also by the determination of young people – students who believed they could change the direction of their communities and bend the arch of history. Rev. Reese, just imagine – Rev. Reese was the one who called Rev. Martin Luther King to come and join the march, I’m sure Rev. Abernathy as well.
“A week after Bloody Sunday, President Lyndon Baines Johnson came before a Joint Session of Congress and called on Congress to pass sweeping voting rights legislation. He was moved by the march. And he said at the time to Congress: ‘At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was … at Appomattox. So it was … in Selma, Alabama.’
“I’m so glad he said that because as we honor all of you and Black History Month, his words are recognition of what we all know: that that wasn’t just about Black history; that was about American history as much as any other event in the history of our country.
“Selma was a bridge to the ballot – an act of courage that challenged the conscience of America. I’m so pleased that Viola Liuzzo’s daughter is here with us because her mother was one who answered the challenged – she saw it on TV: the march, the treatment of the marchers and went down to Alabama. She was shot, as you know – a martyr of the cause for helping out.
“But when Ms. Liuzzo’s daughter spoke to us in Selma last year, we were asking her as children and as your family: did you ever wonder why your mother went to Alabama? Does your family ever ask that question? She said: No, our family just wonders why everyone didn’t go to Alabama.
“With their heroism – with your heroism – with the Voting Rights law you helped realize, the Selma marchers, all of you, made America more American. Thanks to you, for almost 50 years the Voting Rights Act stood as a great guardian of our democracy. But in recent years as we know, the landmark law that you all gave so much for has been weakened and the protection that it guarantees have been diluted.
“Today, it is our honor to celebrate the Foot Soldiers of the Selma marches with the Congressional Gold Medal. Their bravery adds everlasting luster to this award. Today, it is our honor to celebrate the Foot Soldiers of the Selma marches with the Congressional Gold Medal. Your bravery adds everlasting luster to this award. But the men and women at Selma did not march for medals. You marched to demand action. You marched to pass legislation, and you did.
“If we really truly value the legacy of the Selma Foot Soldiers, we must come together – Democrats and Republicans – and pass a renewed, restored and strengthened Voting Rights Act without any further delay.
“You, all of you, men and women alike, had the courage to march forward into tear gas and nightsticks for voting rights in our democracy. We should have the courage and, indeed, the decency to hold a vote in Congress on the Voting Rights Act.
“51 years later, the dignity – see the dignity, feel the dignity in this room from all of you – the dignity and determination of the Selma marchers still echoes through the decades; as a source of strength and inspiration, and as a challenge to every last one of us here today. Let us be worthy of their legacy. Let us continue their march for justice in this new century. Let us pass the Voting Rights Act. Thank you all.”
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