Civil rights icon John Lewis on Sunday paid tribute to the 55th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, remembering the historic voting rights protests that seriously injured the lawmaker decades before he was elected to Congress.
In an emotional scene, Lewis locked arms with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as they marched alongside other members of Congress across the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge to mark the anniversary of the pivotal March 7,1965, march from Selma to Alabama’s capital, Montgomery.
Lewis, who was beaten by white police officers so badly that day that he suffered a broken skull, was among the 17 people who were hospitalized and dozens more who were injured by police.
On Sunday, the 80-year-old Georgia Democratic congressman, who has recently been undergoing treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer, said those gathered were taking a “little walk” to reenact the historic march and all it represents.
“It is good to be in Selma, Alabama, one more time,” Lewis said as he spoke to the crowd assembled on the bridge. “To take a little walk to try to dramatize the need for the rights of all our people to be able to participate in the democratic process.”
As Lewis, Pelosi and the other lawmakers walked, they sang some of the same songs that were sung by those who marched more than five decades ago, including “We Shall Overcome,” the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.
“On this bridge some of us gave a little blood to help redeem the soul of America. Our country is a better country. We are (a) better people, but we have still a distance to travel to go before we get there,” Lewis said. “I want to thank each and every one of you for being here, for not giving up, not giving in, for keeping the faith, for keeping your eyes on the prize.”
This is the second weekend in a row that Lewis has returned to the Edmund Pettus Bridge to pay tribute. Last week, he made a surprise appearance at the commemorative march that was held there. The congressman spoke to the crowd that day but did not actually march through the route with attendees.
Lawmakers attending the latest event were visibly moved, tearing up at seeing Lewis and hearing his remarks.
As he has throughout his career, Lewis urged those attending to speak up and push for voting rights, telling them to “keep walking.”
“Members of Congress, when we go back to Washington in the next few days, weeks, we’ve got to see that all of our people get out and vote like we’ve never voted before. We must do it, if we don’t do it, who will do it?” he said.
First elected to represent Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, which includes much of Atlanta, in 1986, Lewis is sometimes referred to as “the conscience of the US Congress.” He is known for getting into “good trouble,” and by his own count, the congressman was arrested more than 40 times during his days of civil rights activism.
The march has been reenacted many times on its anniversary. In 2015, President Barack Obama marked the 50th anniversary of the march by delivering a speech at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the following year, the marchers received a Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest civilian honor.
CNN’s Leon Jobe contributed to this report. Cole reported from Washington, DC, and Conlon reported from Selma, Alabama.