Yesterday’s march, with lessons for today

March 7, 1965, is a day to remember.

That was never a problem for 90-year-old Ora Bell Shannon of Selma, Ala., then a young mother who ran with her children from the Edmund Pettus Bridge, or for Betty Boynton, who could see the tear gas rising and baton-wielding state troopers beating peaceful marchers.

Civil rights activists — among them Amelia Boynton, Betty Boynton’s mother-in-law, and a young John Lewis — put their bodies on the line to create the headlines and the international shock that forced action from Washington. In truth, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 simply put teeth into the enforcement of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, ignored by state and local governments intent on blocking African Americans from the ballot box.

Back then, it was about the right to vote, and in 2022, it is still about the right to vote, reinforced by the hard-won Voting Rights Act of 1965 but increasingly under attack by state laws placing obstacles in the way of those least able to overcome them.

As many, including Vice President Kamala Harris, traveled to Selma this past Sunday to commemorate what has become known as “Bloody Sunday,” the landscape has changed in a country where many have lost the ability to be shocked or to find common cause with citizens different from themselves.

 It is a world where, as Senate Democrats hold their annual issues conference at Howard University in Washington, elevating the excellence of that institution, students seeking an education at historically Black colleges and universities face bomb threats.

It’s easy to forget that in the not-that-distant past, the annual ceremony in Selma, including a symbolic march across the bridge named for a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader, had been bipartisan. In 2015, a chastened Kevin McCarthy, then House majority leader, attended the 50th anniversary of the historic march in Selma after initial reports that no GOP congressional leaders would be there.

A half-century after Selma, the ‘black friend’ defense is going strong

OPINION — On a “Meet the Press” appearance a few weeks ago, Ohio Democrat and maybe presidential hopeful Sen. Sherrod Brown was commenting on that slam-bang start to Black History Month, Virginia officials in blackface, when he said, “This country hasn’t dealt well with issues of race. We have a president who’s a racist.” That led host Chuck Todd to ask Brown if he believed Donald Trump was a racist “in his heart,” to which Brown answered, “Well, I don’t know what ‘in his heart’ means.”

Exactly.

What’s in someone’s heart matters not at all when there is a long list of well-documented racist acts that have affected the lives of actual human beings. Brown mentioned a few off the top of his head; few sentient beings would have had trouble doing the same.

As Biden heads to Selma, will black voters embrace him as Obama’s successor?

In fitting tribute to his leadership in the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., and his lifelong commitment to civil rights, U.S. Rep. John Lewis will once again be in the lead March 3, in the annual commemoration of that pivotal walk. Among the many following this Sunday will be Vice President Joe Biden, accompanied by his wife. They also plan to attend the Martin and Coretta King Unity Brunch, according to White House and Selma officials.

Biden built on his support from many African-American voters as he has played a strong No. 2 to the first African-American president. At the July 2012 NAACP convention where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney received a decidedly mixed reaction for comments disparaging, among other things, “Obamacare,” Biden left the audience wanting more.

But will black voters, particularly the black women who knocked on doors and made the phone calls in 2008 and 2012, be there for Biden if he decides to run in 2016? And if Hillary Clinton, after enjoying her post Secretary of State down time, decides to capitalize on her current front-runner status, how will her candidacy affect Biden’s support?