MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Congress is honoring civil rights veterans who demonstrated for voting rights in Alabama in 1965, and advocates said Tuesday they hope legislators will do more and extend voting rights protections in coming months.
U.S. Representatives Terri Sewell of Alabama and John Lewis of Georgia will award the Congressional Gold Medal to so-called “foot soldiers” of the civil rights movement at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Sewell, Lewis and congressional leaders will present the medal to civil rights activist Rev. Frederick D. Reese of Selma. Reese, 86, will accept Congress’ highest civilian honor on behalf of those who marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 to highlight the struggle for voting rights.
Sewell sponsored the bipartisan Congressional Gold Medal bill in 2015 to honor the nearly 8,000 participants. The demonstrations served as a catalyst for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Sewell said.
But some civil rights advocates said they wish Congress would take concrete steps to strengthen the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision in 2013, allowing individual states to change election laws without advance approval from the federal government.
Wade Henderson, chief executive of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said during a conference call Tuesday afternoon with reporters that advocates are concerned about voter suppression in the first presidential election in 50 years “without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act.”
“A medal is not nearly enough to redeem what our nation lost when our Voting Rights Act was gutted,” he said.
Henderson said he hopes Congress will act on legislation that would replace provisions of the law that were struck down by the court.
The Rev. C.T. Vivian, a leader of the Selma movement, said receiving the congressional award is “humbling” but echoed Henderson’s sentiments.
“The Congress that wants to honor us won’t get its act together to restore what we’ve lost,” the 91-year-old Vivian said. “The medal is a start. The way to truly honor our sacrifice is to restore the Voting Rights Act.”
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