'Bloody Sunday' Remembered

Clinton Jackson Selma AP

There were bittersweet memories in Selma, Alabama Sunday about what was both one of the darkest chapters in the history of this country and a milestone in the fight for civil rights.

To survivors, March 7th, 1965 is "Bloody Sunday," CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports. On Sunday, President Clinton presided over ceremonies to mark the 35th anniversary of the day 600 marchers, protesting the denial of voting rights to blacks, were attacked by state troopers.

Humming the hymns of history on the bridge that hate made famous, President Bill Clinton, a native of nearby Arkansas, became the first sitting U.S. President to cross the Edmond Pettus Bridge, an old bridge that led to a new America.

"I am a son of the South, the old segregated South. Those of you who marched on Bloody Sunday set me free, too," Clinton said before walking across the bridge arm-in-arm with Coretta Scott King, widow of Rev. Martin Luther King, and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

Lewis, who was badly injured on that day and has marched every year since to mark the anniversary, invited Clinton to join him this year, Clinton's last in office.

On his way into Selma, Clinton stopped his motorcade on the far side of the Pettus bridge and stood at a stone monument to the marchers, where the "Bloody Sunday" violence began. He and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson stood there for a few moments with their heads bowed and then returned to the motorcade.

"We have built that bridge to the 21st century," Clinton said. "We could not have done it if brave Americans had not crossed the Edmond Pettus Bridge."

On that Sunday 35 years ago, America watched unarmed men, women and children pushed and beaten by Alabama State troopers. John Lewis remembers: "I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a night stick and had a concussion there at the bridge. I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death."

Hundreds of demonstrators were injured and jailed. Two days later, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led a symbolic march to the bridge.

Three weeks later, on March 21, 1965, some 3,200 marchers set out from Selma for Montgomery, protected by a federal court order, gathering marchers as they went, until they reached the Alabama capital with 25,000 participants. Three people were killed in the violence surrounding the series of marches.

Less than five months after the last of the three marches in Selma, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that guaranteed the right to vote.

That day, America saw a chance to do better. Thirty-five years later, many believe she must do better still. Here in Alabama black unemployment is still high. Academic test scores are still low. Racial terror has been replaced by racial tension.

On Saturday, 35 miles east of Selma in Montgomery more than a thousand people, waving confederate flags attended what was billed as a Southern Heritage parade, a counter-demonstration to the satewide events commemorating Bloody Sunday.

"As long as the waving symbol of one American's pride is the shameful symbol of another American's shame," the President said, "we have another bridge to cross."

And Congressman Lewis said, "The stress and strain of racism are still deeply embedded in American society. We see it in Texas, we see it in New York. We see it all across America. We still have a distance to go. We have other bridges to cross."

Thirty-five years ago, the bridge to equality was far more dangerous. But 35 years later, America is still far from the other side.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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