WASHINGTON – “Foot soldier” Rev. Frederick Reese, who marched from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965 for voting rights, received a Congressional Gold Medal at the Capitol on Wednesday, along with all those who marched.
Reese marched with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and more than 50,000 people from Selma to Montgomery in hope of change.
“I am certainly honored to be able to stand here and look into such beautiful faces, and to recall how good God has been,” Reese said. “When we think about the many difficult roads that we have traveled, and the many beatings we might have taken – God saw fit to allow us to be here this hour. I don’t know what you told Him when you woke up this morning, but I told him thank you.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., presented the award to Reese, who accepted it on everyone’s behalf. Before the award was presented, Congressional leaders Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Rep. Terri Sewell D-Ala., Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, all gave speeches about the progress in the nation since 1965.
House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in order to truly honor the foot soldiers, it’s everyone’s duty to vote.
“You faced discrimination and intimidation. You suffered bigotry and brutality,” Pelosi said. “But still you marched for justice, for equality and for the opportunity to cast a ballot and shape the future of our great country.”
There were foot soldiers present in the crowd like Albert Southall, 69, who remains an active civil rights activist, that said he remembers the march vividly.
“I was 18 at the time, and see when I was in the 12th grade – I couldn’t see this far,” Southall said about being honored at the ceremony. “We were just marching, demonstrating and trying to get the right to vote – so it’s really unbelievable because when you’re a child, you can’t see this happening.”
Originally from Selma, Ala., Southall said he was blessed he was given the chance to celebrate this ceremony with ten of his classmates who also marched alongside with him.
“We really joined the movement, started going to the church mass meetings and working out strategies,” he said. “We had a student leader that helped instruct us and guide us on what to do.”
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who also marched from Selma to Montgomery and was recognized at the ceremony, remembered all of the foot soldiers that helped marched, telling the crowd, “they were just ordinary people with an extraordinary vision.”
“Thank you to each and every one of you who marched, who prayed, who never gave up, who never gave in, who kept the faith and who kept their eyes on the prize,” Lewis said. “Thank you.”
The march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 is known as the event to help pass the Voting Rights Act.
Foot soldiers, including Martin Luther King Jr., were met with violent resistance by state and local authorities when they first attempted to march to Montgomery. The activists had to strategize and come together with a new plan. Together, they all marched in a second attempt to Montgomery, and were successful.
The 2014 movie “Selma” helps depict the struggles of the march and what the foot soldiers had to go through for their equal voting rights.
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