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AL lawmakers lead effort to award America’s highest civilian honor to Selma marchers

Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.
Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

WASHINGTON — Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced legislation Thursday to award the highest civilian honor to the Selma marchers whose bravery created a turning point in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“It is fitting that we honor the courage and determination of the civil rights marchers at Selma 50 years ago,” Senator Sessions in a release Thursday. “This was a truly pivotal event in the drive to achieve the right to vote for all Americans—a right which had systematically been denied. This action was historic and dealt a major blow to the deliberate discrimination that existed, producing a positive and lasting change for America. Those who stood tall for freedom on that fateful day deserve to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal.”

The medal would honor the “foot soldiers” who participated in the “Bloody Sunday” march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, “Turnaround Tuesday,” or the final march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965. The violent and traumatic events of the marches, which are depicted in the recent film “Selma,” are credited with helping to trigger the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited the voting disenfranchisement of African Americans.

“We are forever indebted to those brave Americans—men and women of diverse age, color, and creed—who gathered in Selma 50 years ago to march on the frontlines in the fight for equality and justice,” said Senator Booker. “As an American who stands on the shoulders of their courageous sacrifice, I am proud to honor these unsung heroes who victoriously overcame bigotry and hate by walking in unwavering love and peace.”

Alabama Congresswomen Martha Roby (R-AL2) and Terri Sewell (D-AL7) sponsored the House version of the bill, which had 303 co-sponsors and passed unanimously by a vote of 420-0 on February 11th. The Senate bill has 66 co-sponsors so far, including Alabama’s senior Senator, Richard Shelby (R). The bill needs one more co-sponsor before it is eligible to be considered by the Senate Banking Committee, which Sen. Shelby chairs.

Once the bill is passed and signed by the President, the sponsors of the legislation will meet with the US Mint to design the medal itself, which must then be approved by the Secretary of Treasury before being cast at the Philadelphia Mint. Traditionally, brass replicas of the medal are also sold as souvenirs to help cover the costs.

In March, leaders from across the world, including President Obama, will participate in a commemorative march in Selma recognizing the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement.

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