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Bloody Sunday memorial to honor late civil rights giants

The commemoration of a pivotal moment in the fight for voting rights for African Americans will honor four giants of the civil rights movement who lost their lives in 2020, including the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

The Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee will mark the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday — the day on March 7, 1965, that civil rights marchers were brutally beaten by law enforcement officers on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. Lewis, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the Rev. C.T. Vivian, and attorney Bruce Boynton are the late civil rights leaders who will be honored on Sunday.

Bloody Sunday became a turning point in the fight for voting rights. Footage of the beatings helped galvanize support for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

FILE - In this March 7, 2015, file photo, President Barack Obama, center, walks as he holds hands with Amelia Boynton Robinson, who was beaten during "Bloody Sunday," as the first family and others including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., left of Obama, walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., for the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," a landmark event of the civil rights movement. From front left are Marian Robinson, Sasha Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Obama, Boynton and Adelaide Sanford, also in wheelchair. (AP PhotoJacquelyn Martin, File)

This year’s commemoration comes as some states seek to roll back expanded early and mail-in voting access and efforts have been unsuccessful to restore a key section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval for any changes to voting procedures.

“Those of us who are still living, particularly the young, need to take up the challenge and go forward because there is still so much to be done,” said former state Sen. Hank Sanders, one of the founders of the annual celebration.

The event typically brings thousands of people to Selma. However, most of the events are being held virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2012, file photo, civil rights activist C.T. Vivian sits at his home in Atlanta. This Sunday, March 7, 2021, marks the 56th anniversary of the Selma marches and "Bloody Sunday," when more than 500 demonstrators gathered on March 7, 1965, to demand the right to vote and cross Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge. The March 7, 2021, Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee will be the first without the towering presence of John Lewis, as well as the Rev. Joseph Lowery, Vivian and attorney Bruce Boynton, who all died in 2020. (AP PhotoDavid Goldman, File)

The annual Martin & Coretta King Unity Breakfast will be held as a drive-in event. The Rev. Bernard LaFayette, Martin Luther King III and the founders of the group Black Voters Matter will speak at the breakfast.

U.S. Sen Raphael Warnock of Georgia and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina will also deliver remarks by video.

Lowery, a charismatic and fiery preacher, is often considered the dean of the civil rights veterans and led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

FILE - In this March 4, 1990, file photo, civil rights figures lead marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the recreation of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march in Selma, Ala. From left are Hosea Williams of Atlanta, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Evelyn Lowery, SCLC President Joseph Lowery and Coretta Scott King. This Sunday, March 7, 2021, marks the 56th anniversary of those marches and "Bloody Sunday," when more than 500 demonstrators gathered on March 7, 1965, to demand the right to vote and cross Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge. They were met by dozens of state troopers and many were severely beaten. (AP PhotoJamie Sturtevant, File)

Vivian began organizing sit-ins against segregation in the 1940s and later joined forces with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1965, Vivian led dozens of marchers to a courthouse in Selma, confronting the local sheriff on the courthouse steps and telling him the marchers should be allowed to register to vote. The sheriff responded by punching Vivian in the head.

Boynton was arrested for entering the white part of a racially segregated bus station in Virginia, launching a chain reaction that ultimately helped to bring about the abolition of Jim Crow laws in the South. Boynton contested his conviction, and his appeal resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibited bus station segregation.

His case inspired the Freedom Riders of 1961 — a group of young activists who went on bus rides throughout the South to test whether court-ruled desegregation was actually being enforced. They faced violence from white mobs and arrest by local authorities.

FILE - In this April 4, 2012, file photo, civil rights activists and Southern Christian Leadership Conference members from left, Ralph Worrell, Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr., C.T. Vivian and Frederick Moore, join hands and sing "We Shall Overcome" at the Atlanta gravesite of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., marking the 44th anniversary of his assassination. This Sunday, March 7, 2021, marks the 56th anniversary of the Selma marches and "Bloody Sunday," when more than 500 demonstrators gathered on March 7, 1965, to demand the right to vote and cross Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge. (AP PhotoDavid Goldman, File)

FILE - In this March 7, 1965, file photo, a state trooper swings a billy club at John Lewis, right foreground, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to break up a civil rights voting march in Selma, Ala. The March 7, 2021, Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee will be the first without the towering presence of Lewis, as well as the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the Rev. C.T. Vivian and attorney Bruce Boynton, who all died in 2020. (AP PhotoFile)

FILE - In this July 28, 2016, file photo, civil rights leader Dolores Huerta speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Huerta, a co-founder of the United Farmworkers with Cesar Chavez, is a slated speaker for the 2021 Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee. (AP PhotoPaul Sancya, File)

FILE - In this March 4, 1990, file photo, Coretta Scott King walks arm-in-arm with Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Joseph Lowery, second from right, in Selma, Ala., as marchers begin the final leg of their trek to the Alabama Capitol. The March 7, 2021, Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee will be the first without the towering presence of John Lewis, as well as Lowery, the Rev. C.T. Vivian and attorney Bruce Boynton, who all died in 2020. (AP PhotoDave Martin, File)

FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2020, file photo, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, of S.C., shields his eyes from a television light during a news conference about COVID-19, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Clyburn, a member of the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee's honorary committee, believes one way to honor the memory of Lewis and others is to enact the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, to strengthen protections granted under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and protect against racial discrimination and vote suppression. (AP PhotoJacquelyn Martin, File)