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Biden, on first visit to Selma as president, attended 'Bloody Sunday' remembrance

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Images of white officers beating civil rights protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., was a turning point in the fight for voting rights 58 years ago. The day became known as Bloody Sunday. And yesterday, President Biden joined the remembrance events in his first visit to Selma as president. NPR's Deepa Shivaram traveled with Biden and brings us this report.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Voting rights.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Now.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: President Biden stood before a crowd of thousands at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge to deliver a message. Voting rights in the U.S. are still under attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The conservative Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act over the years - since the 2020 election, a wave of states and dozens - dozens of anti-voting laws fueled by the big lie and the election deniers now elected to office.

SHIVARAM: Biden, who came into office just weeks after the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, has made protecting democracy a cornerstone of his agenda.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Selma is a reckoning. The right to vote - the right to vote, to have your vote counted is the threshold of democracy and liberty. With it, anything's possible. Without it - without that right, nothing is possible.

SHIVARAM: The commitment to protecting and expanding voting rights is one Biden made when he ran for president in 2020. But his proposals didn't pass in Congress, even when Democrats controlled both chambers. Now with Republicans in control of the House, the legislation isn't likely to move forward. The stall has frustrated voting rights advocates and comes as Biden is expected to announce his reelection campaign - one he can't win without support from Black voters. In his remarks, Biden touted the investments his administration has already made in historically Black colleges and in infrastructure and health care and how those laws impact communities like Selma, where nearly 85% of the population is Black.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: We see you. We're fighting to make sure no one's left behind. This is a time of choosing, and we need everybody engaged.

SHIVARAM: Crossing the bridge, Biden linked arms with lawmakers and civil rights leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Ain't going to let nobody turn me around.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) Whoa.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Turn me around.

SHIVARAM: They chanted and sang and stopped for a prayer at the section of the bridge where, nearly six decades ago, state troopers began their attack. How Biden plans to tackle voting rights in the second half of his term is unclear, but his message to Selma was similar to the pitch he's making to voters. There's still work left to do.

Deepa Shivaram, NPR News, Selma.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM SONG, "DYING LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.

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