Flanked by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton (as well as a few people who actually don’t use racial conflict for personal gain) Vice President Joe Biden told Southerners he felt guilty for not having been a part of the original Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights marches almost 50 years ago.
Biden was in Selma, Ala., Sunday, visiting the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 48th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” police attacks, which helped draw national attention to institutional racism in the South during the late 1960s.
“I regret — and although it’s not a part of what I’m supposed to say — I apologize it took me 48 years to get here… I should have been here,” said a contrite Biden.
This year’s Bloody Sunday anniversary came only a week after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on both sides of a challenge to eliminate a portion of the Voting Rights Act, a piece of civil rights-era legislation that has tasked nine States (seven in the South) with seeking permission from the U.S. Department of Justice anytime their legislatures take up voter redistricting or similar electoral changes.
The Act, including the nine-State “preclearance” provision, was most recently reaffirmed by Congress in 2006. Except for a few individual counties named in the Act, the other 41 racism-free states can change their elections laws without permission from the DOJ.
Biden kept his comments on target, and he never condescended to present-day Southerners by indicating racism is endemic to only one part of the Nation. Neither did he use the occasion to overtly promote any current White House policy agenda.
But U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who also made the trip, did just that, drafting a speech with a not-so-subtle message from the Administration of President Barack Obama that the Supreme Court shouldn’t strike down the preclearance requirement:
“Let me be clear: although our nation has indeed changed, although the South is far different now, and although progress has indeed been made, we are not yet at the point where the most vital part of the Voting Rights Act can be deemed unnecessary. The struggle for voting rights for all Americans must continue – and it will.”
Holder’s remarks pleased Jackson, who later said a Voting Rights Act requiring the same electoral diligence from all 50 States would be “terribly damaging to democracy,” and that a Supreme Court ruling invalidating the preclearance requirement would amount to a “judicial scheme” that once again invites racist gerrymandering in the South.