- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009

SELMA, Ala. | The nation’s first black attorney general and former Gov. George C. Wallace’s daughter celebrated the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march Sunday, 44 years after state troopers from Mr. Wallace’s administration beat marchers starting the landmark journey.

Peggy Wallace Kennedy introduced Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. at a historic Selma church filled to overflowing. “It’s reconciliation and redemption,” Mrs. Kennedy said.

Selma’s annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, commemorating the 1965 voting rights march, brought together civil rights leaders the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, and several members of Congress, including Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat, who was beaten in the original Selma march.

Mr. Holder and Mrs. Kennedy embraced at Brown Chapel AME Church, where marchers organized on March 7, 1965, to begin their 50-mile trek to Montgomery.

A few blocks into the march, they were beaten by state troopers on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge — an event that became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

The march to Montgomery was later completed under federal protection, with Martin Luther King leading it. The march prompted passage of the Voting Rights Act, which opened Southern polling places to blacks and ended all-white government.

“I am a beneficiary of Selma,” Mr. Holder said.

Mrs. Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama for president in the fall, but she and Mr. Holder had never met until Sunday. U.S. Rep. Artur Davis of Birmingham, a Democrat who is campaigning to try to become Alabama’s first black governor, asked her to introduce Mr. Holder. But the ties between Mr. Holder and Mrs. Kennedy go back decades in Alabama history.

Her father stood in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in 1963 in an unsuccessful attempt to keep Mr. Holder’s future sister-in-law, Vivian Malone Jones, from integrating the university.

“I so wish Vivian had lived to see this moment,” Mr. Holder said after hugging Mrs. Kennedy.

Mrs. Kennedy said that as a child watching the Selma-to-Montgomery march, “I knew their cause was just.” But she said she never spoke out politically until she endorsed Mr. Obama, who appointed Mr. Holder.

Selma’s black mayor said it was appropriate that the 44th anniversary of the voting rights march followed the inauguration of the nation’s 44th president. “What happened in Selma 44 years ago set in motion events that led to the election of our 44th president, Barack Obama,” Mayor George Evans said.

Mr. Holder said no one dreamed on “Bloody Sunday” that Mr. Wallace would later apologize for his segregationist views or that his daughter one day would support Mr. Obama for president.

But he said it’s not time to rest. “It will take much more than the election of the first African-American president to make Dr. King’s dream a reality,” he told an audience of more than 500 people earlier at Wallace Community College.

Mr. Holder also said it’s vital to protect a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in January to review a lower-court ruling upholding a portion of the law that requires all or part of 16 states, including Alabama, to get federal approval before implementing any changes in the way elections are held.

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