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May 30, 2017

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Biden leads Selma re-enactment

SELMA, Alabama -- More than 5,000 people followed Vice President Joe Biden and black leaders across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the notorious 1965 beating of rights marchers, an event that galvanized the civil rights movement and pushed Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act the same year.

The marchers on Sunday followed Biden and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, across the bridge in Selma's annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee. In March 1965, the marchers — including a young Lewis — were beaten by state troopers as they began a march to Montgomery. The 50-mile (80-kilometer) march shocked the country and led to the Voting Rights Act that struck down impediments to voting by African-Americans and ended all-white rule in the South.

Biden, the first sitting vice president to participate in the annual re-enactment, said nothing shaped his consciousness more than watching TV footage of the beatings.

"We saw in stark relief the rank hatred, discrimination and violence that still existed in large parts of the nation," he said.

Biden said marchers "broke the back of the forces of evil," but that challenges to voting rights continue today with restrictions on early voting and voter registration drives and enactment of voter identification laws where no voter fraud has been shown.

Voter identification laws have largely been supported by Republicans who insist they are needed to prevent voter fraud. Democrats contend such laws suppress minority voter turnout because a higher percentage of blacks and Latinos than white lack the government-issued documents such as a driver's license or passport that some states require to cast a vote.

"We will never give up or give in," Lewis told marchers.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a prominent civil rights leader, said Sunday's event had a sense of urgency because the U.S. Supreme Court heard a request Wednesday by a mostly white Alabama county to strike down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act.

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