Georgia Rep. John Lewis surprised attendees at this year’s Bloody Sunday commemorative march in Selma, Alabama, imploring all attendees to vote, CNN reports. Attendees marched in remembrance across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the afternoon to commemorate the freedom-marchers who were clubbed and tear-gassed by state troopers as they peacefully marched over the same bridge over half a century ago on March 7, 1965. Seventeen people were hospitalized including Lewis after being injured by police while dozens more were hurt. The protest was held against the denial of civil rights to Americans based solely on the color of their skin, which prompted the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Fifty-five years ago, a few of God’s children attempted to march … across this bridge. We were beaten, we were tear-gassed. I thought I was going to die on this bridge. But somehow and some way, God almighty helped me here,” Lewis said during his remarks on Sunday at the apex of the bridge, “We must go out and vote like we never, ever voted before.” Lewis also encouraged those attending to use their vote as “a nonviolent instrument or tool to redeem the soul of America.”
“To see hundreds and thousands of young people with their mothers, their fathers, their grandparents, great grandparents, to see Black and White people, Hispanics, and others standing together, marching together, walking together, to not forget what happened and how it happened,” he said.
“We got to make America better for all of her people. When no one is left out or left behind, because of their race, their color, because of where they grew up, or where they were born,” he added. “We’re one people, we’re one family.”
It was unclear if Lewis would be able to attend the commemorative march as he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer back in December but a spokeswoman for the commemoration march organizers told CNN that Lewis would be at the front of the march participants—the same position he has been at previous anniversary marches.