Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Honoring the Selma Foot Soldiers

WASHINGTON, D.C.Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate held a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony today honoring the Selma Foot Soldiers of the 1965 Voting Rights Marches. The following are U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s remarks delivered during the ceremony, which took place in Emancipation Hall, in the U.S. Capitol:

“From time to time we come together in retrospect, on the historic grounds of the Capitol, to show continuing gratitude to individuals whose actions helped shape our nation.

“We again do so now. We gather in honor of brave men and women whose historical impact is still felt these many years later.

“When the Selma Foot Soldiers embarked on their journey, they did so without the promise of valor.

“Victory was never assured, or even likely. But they marched on anyway.

“Through fogs of gas. Through hails of clubs. Through torrents of hose and wire. They marched on. First across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and then, with Dr. King, right back again.

“As they reached the end, halted once more by troops and police, Dr. King led a prayer of solidarity.

“Marchers knelt with him in the street, in the shadow of a human barrier before them.

“King called this moment, quote, ‘the greatest demonstration for freedom that we’ve ever had in the South.’

“It takes more than tear gas to extinguish an idea.

“Flesh can burn, ribs can break, and skulls can even be fractured, but it takes something more than a club or a hose to break a spirit.

“Congressman John Lewis understands this better than many. We’re glad he’s with us today.

“He knows that marchers’ spirits weren’t broken that day. He knows that a profound but simple idea continued to burn bright: that we are all God’s children, equal before Him and equal before the law.

“The marchers continued onwards on their journey. Marching from Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church. Marching down Highway 80.

“After five long days — after 54 long, often lonely, miles of freezing temperatures, grueling rain, and muddy campsites — the marchers arrived at the steps of the Capitol in Montgomery.

“The New York Times said the next day that the marchers had ‘moved toward their goal of freedom much further in these past five days than mere miles from Selma to Montgomery can measure.’

“‘Their pilgrimage,’ it said, ‘transformed the normal landscape of the South.’

“As someone who spent his early childhood about 180 miles north of Selma, let me tell you — events like these did help transform the South in many ways.

“That is why, some 50 years later, we gather this afternoon.

“We acknowledge the contributions made by those here with us today.

“We also bestow the highest civilian honor Congress can give.

“We do so in the hope that it may serve as both a mark of honor and a reminder — a reminder of a march from Selma to Montgomery, a reminder of what it helped to achieve in our nation, and a reminder of the enduring, indomitable, and unbreakable power of the human spirit.”

Related Issues: History, Tributes