When the House gave final passage this week to a bill designating a 54-mile route in Alabama as a national historic trail, there was not much ceremony. But we hope the public is paying attention, because that route symbolizes much that has been wrong with America, as well as one of our democracy's signal accomplishments in this century.
The route extends from Selma to Montgomery. Back in 1965, a group of civil rights protesters marched along it to protest the South's systematic efforts to deprive black Americans of the right to vote. State troopers and a sheriff's posse converged on the marchers and attacked them with clubs and tear gas. The nation was astonished by news reports of the incident. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. arrived later to complete the march, and that same year President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.Because this nation is still engaged in civil rights and racial issues, it's easy to forget the distance we have traversed in achieving equality under the law in this country. As just one example, many Southern counties at the time of the march had not a single black registered voter, even though their populations may have been as high as 80 percent black. Today, voting rights are not denied.
One person who has not forgotten is John Lewis. He was badly beaten on that march and had to be rushed to emergency care. He is now a Democratic congressman from Georgia and was one of the speakers when the House passed the historic-trail bill. "The trail reminds us of where we were in 1965 and how far we have come as a nation and a people," he said. Simple words but important ones.