Inside was a who’s who gathering of the civil rights movement along with 30 members of Congress and dozens of federal agents keeping watch over the hallowed house of worship.
Holder paid homage to Jimmy Lee Jackson, a young man who died in a nearby town in 1965 in the fight for voting rights. It was his death on February 1965 that stirred marchers to make their demands louder for equal voting rights.
Jackson was shot in nearby Marion, as he tried to protect his parents with whom he had participated in a voting rights march. Instead of being taken to the hospital for his wounds, Jackson was arrested. He died days later.
What is now a celebration in Selma, was built on the blood and sacrifice of people like Jimmy Lee Jackson. And Holder acknowledged that.
“I am a beneficiary of Selma,” Holder said. As attorney general, he is pledged to defend the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed several measures used in Southern states to keep blacks from voting.
“We stand closer to the dream of Dr. King than ever before, but we’ve got to keep marching,” Holder said. “Some take the view that justice and equality have been achieved by all Americans, but I know better.” And his speech on race last month proved just that.
The U.S. Supreme Court next month will hear arguments on a challenge to parts of the Voting Rights Act that require in some states for officials to get clearance for elections where there has been past evidence of discrimination. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has gone on record saying that his state no longer should be bound by that requirement.
About 10 minutes after Holder spoke, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, gave the sermon for a service that began in the morning but ended in the afternoon, shortly after 1 p.m.
Before he preached, the choir sang a familiar gospel, No. 513 in the AME Hymnal, which begins: “Time is Filled with Swift Transition.”
But for Lowery, the hymn was more than just a song. For a moment, he took the microphone and led the singing. “Hold to God, God’s unchanging hand.” But then he stopped, reminding everyone of what lies ahead: “Y’all better leave that alone. We’ve got a bridge to go across.”