MONTGOMERY, Ala. — About 200 people carried signs and sang spiritual songs Friday as a re-enactment of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march ended with a rally at the Alabama Capitol.
The protesters chanted old civil rights slogans, but also targeted current issues. Many of the demonstrators carried signs protesting an education accountability bill that Republican lawmakers recently pushed through the Legislature.
Robert Binion, a 63-year-old black farmer from Clanton, participated in the last leg of the event, marching through downtown Montgomery to the Alabama Capitol.
Binion said he is getting tired of having to protest.
“I am very tired, but here I am still marching,” Binion said.
About 5,000 people started the 50-mile trek in Selma on Sunday to commemorate the 48th anniversary of the attack by law enforcement officers on voting rights protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in an event known as “Bloody Sunday.” Organizers said the march up U.S. 80 to Montgomery usually included about 25 people.
Binion said he took part in the original march in 1965, but said he never actually made it to the bridge. He said he was in the line of marchers but was still off the bridge when law enforcement officers broke up the march and beat the people at the head of the line. He said he got into a car when that happened.
Binion said he is mostly retired, but still does some farming.
Events surrounding the anniversary began last weekend with the Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma. Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. John Lewis — one of those beaten at the bridge in 1965 — attended the events in Selma, along with more than 20 U.S senators and representatives.
An organizer of the Friday event, Democratic state Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma, said voting rights is still an issue. He pointed to the recent challenge in the Supreme Court to one part of the Voting Rights Act. As he spoke, the protesters chanted “fired up,” a favorite slogan from civil rights protests.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference CEO Charles Steele told the crowd, “There’s still a mean spirit out there.”
“You have to keep marching. Some of you will have to go to jail,” Steele said.
Steele said he has always had the spirit of a protester, explaining that as a child during segregation he always drank from “the white water fountains” instead of the ones designated for blacks because the water was colder and tasted better.
Jeffrey Ray Jones, 53, of Mobile, said he participated in much of the march reenactment, even though he has had hip replacement surgery. He said the 50-mile hike strained him physically, but he enjoyed seeing all of the historical markers commemorating the original march.
“It was a physical struggle,” he said, but different from what the 1965 marchers endured.
“At least I didn’t have to worry that someone along the way would want to kill me,” Jones said.