ATLANTA - Fifty-six years ago, many young people gathered in Selma, Ala., to protest racial injustice and call for change.
On the Edmund Pettis Bridge, the crowd of some 600 gathered and law enforcement began to attack protesters. The event became infamously known as "Bloody Sunday."
Included in the crowd were civil rights leaders and icons, such as future Georgia congressman John Lewis. Bloody Sunday is considered a turning point in the civil rights movement. That year, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Lewis, Georgia's District 5th representative, died in 2020 at the age of 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were not in Selma, Ala., (neither were even born yet), but activists recognized them for carrying on the legacies of protesters who were there and what the day symbolizes.
On Sunday, the anniversary of that historic incident, U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock were presented with the 2021 Martin and Coretta King National Leadership Award at the annual Unity Breakfast in Selma, Ala.
Ossoff digitally accepted both his award and the award on Warnock's behalf. Warnock was preaching from the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ossoff said.
President Joe Biden, Majority Whip Congressman Jim Clyburn, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, and others also spoke at the breakfast.
Ossoff was vocal in his support for the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. He said the act would end voter suppression and protect the "sacred right to vote."
"56 years is not too long," Ossoff said. "And so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that 56 years later, the power of the right to vote having just been demonstrated, that politicians here in Georgia are trying to disenfranchise Black people again, are trying to strip away the right to vote that so many bled and died for by passing voter suppression legislation that is no better than Jim Crow. And those politicians who would use the force of law to disenfranchise Black people in the American South today are no better than Bull Connor. And that’s why in the United States Senate, we must pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and we must pass the For the People Act to end voter suppression, to protect the sacred right to vote, because the struggle continues."
Ossoff has been vocal about the influence John Lewis had in his life. Ossoff met Lewis as a teenager. Lewis hired Ossoff in his office and mentored him, the senator said.
Warnock is the reverend of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was a pastor.
On Sunday, Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to take a series of steps to promote voting access.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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