Last year, Rep. Terri Sewell introduced H.R. 4 also known as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and had high hopes about its eventual passage. Sadly, Sewell’s hopes were dashed after the bill languished in the Senate after making it past the House, and “[i]n January, a modified measure called the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act failed to clear the chamber.”
Despite these hurdles, Sewell has vowed not to give up. As she prepares for re-election, she has already stated that “she plans to reintroduce the bill…‘Change rarely comes in the halls of Congress without agitation…We can be disappointed or frustrated. But we must never be deterred. Your vote does matter…History doesn’t end here…As long as I have breath in my body, I will continue to fight for voting rights.’”
Sewell conducted an interview with NPR, speaking on what this issue means to her, “But if you told me as a little girl sitting at Brown Chapel AME Church, my home church in Selma, that I would grow up and become Alabama’s first Black congresswoman, or yet still that the issue that I would have to carry is the issue of voting rights – surely that issue had been decided by the John Lewises of the world who made major sacrifices for the Voting Rights Act and the eventual election of African Americans across a host of offices, political offices. But my cause is now their cause because the reality is that old battles have become new again. We see state legislatures all across this country imposing tougher and more barriers for people to vote.”
Sewell, a Princeton, Oxford, and Harvard Law grad, was elected to Congress in 2010, in a historic moment and since then has been a longtime champion of voting rights. Former Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis even “became a mentor on Capitol Hill and a close friend. She fondly called him the ‘Boy from Troy,’ referring to King’s nickname for Lewis, a native of Troy, Alabama. Lewis dubbed his protégé the ‘Girl from Selma’ in return.”
The city of Selma became a household moniker on March 7, 1965, after the media captured and showed the violence against John Lewis and over 600 other nonviolent demonstrators who were attempting to cross the bridge on their way to the state’s Capitol protesting the segregation and racism faced by those trying to exercise their right to vote. This “Bloody Sunday” ultimately became a turning point in the Civil Rights movement and led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 later that year.
Unfortunately, voting rights have continued to be under attack, especially since the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down critical provisions of the landmark legislation. The law was gutted even further after the high court’s decision in Brnovich v. DNC.
In commemoration of this year’s 57th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Rep. Sewell convened for the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee along with “Vice President Kamala Harris and Cabinet members, members of Congress, relatives of King and Lewis, activists and people from around the country.” At the event, Harris made remarks, “Today, we stand on this bridge at a different time…We again, however, find ourselves caught in between — between injustice and justice, between disappointment and determination — still in a fight to form ‘a more perfect union.’ And nowhere is that more clear than when it comes to the ongoing fight to secure the freedom to vote.”