The footage of civil rights demonstrators being beaten by Alabama state troopers on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 had a profound effect on his political consciousness and the conscience of the nation, Vice President Joe Biden said on Sunday.
"What we saw was entrenched hostility and prejudice coming face to face with undaunted courage and resolve," Biden said.
The vice president traveled to Selma to take part in a Bridge Crossing Jubilee to commemorate the American "Bloody Sunday" in 1965, which was credited with impelling Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act and thus enfranchise millions of African Americans in the South.
"As a senior in college in another part of the country, I remember most of us thought that [the right to vote] was secured. Most of us thought that the hatred, the viciousness, the bigotry, that we've seen in our own states had at least subsided," Biden said.
The beatings on the bridge, Biden explained, became an inflection point in the national debate about the voting rights, illustrating that universal suffrage remained far from a guarantee.
"I have one regret," Biden said. "It took me 48 years to get here. I should have been here."
"Thank god we had you," he added.
While those who marched successfully pushed voting rights to the forefront of the national conversation, Biden said that even today, work must continue against those who would abridge those rights.
"What became known as 'Bloody Sunday' not only steeled the resolve of America's civil rights leaders, it compelled our national policymakers to take action," said Attorney General Eric Holder, also in attendance.
The result - the Voting Rights Act - provided "tools that remain not only effective, but essential, even today," he said.
"Let me be very clear: Although our nation has indeed changed, although the South is far different now, and although progress has indeed been made, we are not yet at the point where the most vital part of the Voting Rights Act, section 5, can be deemed unnecessary," Holder said. "The struggle for voting rights for all Americans does and must continue, and it will."
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier this week on a challenge to the Voting Rights Act. Some have raised concerns that the high court could roll back some of the safeguards contained in the landmark legislation.