By Associated Press
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., delivered a fiery speech on Sunday to a crowd gathered inside a Selma, Ala. church to commemorate the civil rights march that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” telling the hundreds gathered that it was a time to recommit to the fight for justice in America.
“It’s time for us to defend the dream,” the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said at the Brown Chapel AME Church. “It’s time that we dare to dream again in America. That is what it takes to make America great. It is up to us to do the work that makes the dream real.”
Booker, who delivered the keynote remarks at the church that was the starting point of the 1965 march, was one of a number of Democratic presidential hopefuls in Selma to commemorate the 54th anniversary of the march.
This year’s commemoration comes in the early days of a Democratic primary that has focused heavily on issues of race. Several candidates have called President Donald Trump a racist while others have voiced support for the idea of reparations for the descendants of enslaved black Americans.
Booker has spoken of himself as a direct beneficiary of the civil rights era after his family was denied housing in a white neighborhood. In January, Booker traveled through Georgia with Georgia Rep. John Lewis, an Alabama native and civil rights leader who was nearly killed in Selma 54 years ago.
On March 7, 1965, peaceful demonstrators were beaten back by Alabama state troopers as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It was a moment that galvanized support for the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year.
Also in Selma was Sen. Bernie Sanders, who attended the 1963 March on Washington where Lewis spoke and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Sanders has highlighted his civil rights and activist background as a young man at the University of Chicago, while working to reset his relationship with black voters, with whom he struggled to connect in the 2016 Democratic primary that Hillary Clinton won.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is mulling a White House run, also went through Selma as part of a “Dignity of Work” tour inspired by King. It’s the fifth time the Democratic senator has come to Selma and he frequently draws connections between civil rights and workers’ rights. A former secretary of state in Ohio, Brown also has a reputation as a leader on expanding voter participation.
The backdrop of Selma provides a spotlight on voting rights. Advocates say the gains achieved as a result of “Bloody Sunday” have been threatened in recent years, particularly by the 2013 Supreme Court decision gutting the landmark Voting Rights Act.
Voter suppression emerged as a key issue in the 2018 midterm elections in states such as Georgia and North Carolina, where a Republican congressional candidate was accused of rigging the contest there through absentee ballots. House Democrats signaled they plan to make ballot access a priority in the new Congress, introducing legislation aimed at protecting voting rights in 2020 and beyond.