Durbin Speaks On Senate Floor On Eve Of Bloody Sunday Anniversary, Underscores Continued Efforts To Protect Voting Rights

Sharing stories of the late Congressman John Lewis and the 1965 march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, Durbin calls the right to vote “so fundamental, so basic, so American”

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, underlined his commitment to protecting voting rights and ensuring important lessons on the history of racial injustice in America are shared – not erased. 

His speech comes on the eve of the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, marking 58 years since the Selma, Alabama, civil rights protests that ended in violence when marchers – most of whom were Black – were attacked and beaten by white state troopers.

“As we think about Selma, Alabama, we think about more than just that picture of people coming over the bridge. We think of the reason they were coming over that bridge – to vote, to be a part of America, to have an opportunity to speak in a democracy. It’s so fundamental, it’s so basic, it’s so American,” said Durbin.

Durbin reflected on a trip he took to Selma with the late Congressman John Lewis, the civil rights icon who himself risked his life to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

“Congressman John Lewis, who I served with in the House of Representatives … one of the real civil rights heroes of my generation, took a group of us down to Selma, Alabama, and part of the trip was to march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which he had done and almost lost his life in the process,” said Durbin.  “We got up at 6:00 AM, drove over to Selma, Alabama, and in the early morning fog, I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with John Lewis by my side. He pointed out where he was standing when they beat him down with a night stick and almost killed him, fractured his skull. I’ve thought about that ever since. When I think of Selma, Alabama, I think of John and the amazing courage that he showed.” 

Durbin continued by sharing a column written by Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor who publishes a daily newsletter examining history and modern politics. 

“I’ve come to know her [Professor Richardson] a bit… She published a column on March 5, Sunday, which spoke about Selma, Alabama, and what was behind that march. It was all about registering African Americans to vote in the state of Alabama,” said Durbin.  “‘In the 1960s,’ she wrote, ‘despite the fact that Black Americans outnumbered White Americans among the 29,500 people who lived in Selma, Alabama, the city’s voting rolls were 99 percent White. So, in 1963, local Black organizers launched a voter registration drive.’” 

Durbin continued reading, “'In Selma, a judge stopped voter registration meetings by prohibiting public gatherings of more than two people. To call attention to the crisis in their city, they invited Dr. Martin Luther King to come to Selma. King and other prominent Black leaders arrived in January 1965, and for seven weeks, Black residents made a push to register to vote. The county Sheriff in the Selma area, James Clark, arrested almost 2,000 of them on a variety of charges.’”

Durbin concluded by underscoring his continued effort to protect voting rights for Black Americans, saying “The right to vote in America – is there anything more fundamental? Is there anything more debated at this point? The Big Lie of the previous president about the results of the last election I hope has been debunked by Americans who are open to the facts, but we still fight to make sure states do not restrict the right to vote. … we shouldn’t ask a great personal sacrifice to achieve it. Heather Richardson made that point in her column.”

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here. 

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations.