Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick was among more than 5,000 people who gathered in Selma, Ala., to commemorate the beating of voting rights marchers that sparked the Voting Rights Act.
Fitzpatrick, R-8, traveled at his own expense with his wife, Kathy, to Sunday’s event, led by the Faith & Politics Institute.
“It is important that we understand our history so we can better understand each other,” Fitzpatrick said Monday. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on everything. But it allows me to have a basic understanding of the struggles of the time, and to meet with other members of Congress from different perspectives and different parties outside our nation’s capital when things seem so divided.”
The FPI leads pilgrimages and brings lawmakers together to learn about a particular period of the nation’s history and the implications of that period today.
“It was a good opportunity to meet members of Congress in very historic place and to discuss and reflect upon where we’ve been as a country and how far we’ve come,” Fitzpatrick said.
On his Facebook page, Fitzpatrick put up a photo and wrote: “Civil Rights champion U.S. Representative John Lewis led us in the annual pilgrimage across the Edmund Pettus Bridge today in Selma, Alabama. Congressman Lewis remains an inspirational figure as we work to bridge the divides that arise in a thriving democracy.”
Though the FPI event was a three-day affair, Fitzpatrick said he and his wife made it a one-day trip.
The event commemorates the March 7, 1965, “Bloody Sunday” beating of voting rights marchers — including Lewis — when Alabama state police attacked peaceful civil rights demonstrators traveling from Selma to Montgomery.
The 50-mile march prompted Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act that struck down impediments to voting by African-Americans and ended all-white rule in the South.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke Sunday. Fitzpatrick described Biden’s “unscripted” comments as “heartfelt.”
“I believe he offered a very sincere apology for not having been personally involved in the struggles around 1965.” Fitzpatrick said. “You got the idea he has thought about it a lot over 48 years and wishes he had been there.”
In recent years as Republican legislatures have pushed for Voter ID laws, Democrats have labeled the attempts as a way to disenfranchise minority voters. Fitzpatrick disagrees with the Democrats’ characterization.
“I have always viewed the request for identification as a way to protect and secure an individual’s right to vote,” he said. “In this particular case, it’s protecting the right to cast a ballot and make certain there is no fraud.
“Others may disagree, and I respect that, but it’s not going to stop me from traveling to places like Selma, participate in a march and try to better understand.”
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