The commemoration of a pivotal moment in the fight for voting entitlements for African Americans will honour four giants of the civil rights movement who lost their lives in 2020.
The Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee will mark the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday – the day on March 7, 1965 civil rights marchers were brutally beaten by law enforcement on Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Representative John Lewis, Reverend Joseph Lowery, Reverend C.T. Vivian and attorney Bruce Boynton are the late rights leaders who will be honoured on Sunday.
Bloody Sunday became a turning point in the fight for voting rights.
Footage of the beatings helped galvanise support for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
This year’s commemoration comes as some states seek to roll back expanded early and mail-in voting and efforts have been unsuccessful to restore the section of the Voting Rights Act requiring states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval for changes.
To mark the occasion, President Joe Biden plans to sign an executive order directing federal agencies to take a series of steps to promote voting access.
He will officially announce the order during a recorded address on Sunday.
“Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have it counted,” Biden says in a script of his remarks to the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast.
The anniversary brings thousands of people to Selma. However most of the events are being held virtually this year because of COVID-19.
The Reverend Bernard LaFayette, Martin Luther King III and founders of the group Black Voters Matter will also speak at the drive-in King breakfast.
Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina will also deliver remarks by video.
Lowery, a charismatic and fiery preacher, is often considered the dean of the civil rights veterans and led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Vivian began organising sit-ins against segregation in the 1940s and later joined forces with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1965, Vivian led dozens of marchers to a courthouse in Selma, confronting the local sheriff on the courthouse steps and telling him the marchers should be allowed to register to vote.
The sheriff responded by punching Vivian in the head.
Boynton was arrested for entering the white part of a racially segregated bus station in Virginia, launching a chain reaction that ultimately helped to bring about the abolition of Jim Crow laws in the South.
Boynton contested his conviction and his appeal resulted in a US Supreme Court decision prohibiting bus station segregation.
His case inspired the Freedom Riders of 1961 – a group of young activists who went on bus rides throughout the South to test whether court-ruled desegregation was actually being enforced.
They faced violence from white mobs and arrest.