SELMA, Ala. (AP) _ More than a thousand people gathered Sunday to commemorate the 1965 ``Bloody Sunday'' voting rights march _ and remarked how the original protest paved the way for modern-day candidates to break political barriers.
With a marching band leading the way, participants retraced the steps to the bridge where marchers were beaten back by state troopers as they marched from Selma to Montgomery in support of opening polls to blacks across the South.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., one of the leaders of the first march, described how the group marched past jeering whites on March 6, 1965, then were beaten with night sticks, trampled by horses and sprayed with tear gas.
``When we left the church to walk through the heart of downtown Selma, it was a silent walk. There were 600 of us armed with a dream,'' Lewis said. ``The dream was that people of color would have the right to vote _ the right to participate in the democratic process.''
Martin Luther King Jr. led a separate march to the bridge two days later. On March 21, 1965, after a federal court intervened, King led a five-day march to the capital. The marches led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year, which removed barriers such as literacy tests that were set up by segregationists to keep blacks from registering to vote.
Sunday's event attracted Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. Speaker after speaker said that neither Clinton or Obama would be running for president if it wasn't for the sacrifices made on Bloody Sunday. Clinton is seeking to become the first woman elected president; Obama is trying to become the first black president.
Former President Bill Clinton joined his wife for the march and was inducted into the National Voting Rights Museum Hall of Fame in a ceremony.
``If it hadn't been for Selma, there would be no Voting Rights Act. If it hadn't been for the Voting Rights Act, the South would have never recovered and two white southerners _ Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton _ never could have become president,'' the former president said.
Marchers ranged from babies in strollers to men and women in their 80s and 90s. The marchers included veterans of the civil rights movement and parents seeking to show their children a piece of history.
``I'm here because I went to jail for the freedom to vote. I slept on the floor,'' said 85-year-old Lecy Lindsey of Wilcox County. She said she was active in protests to allow blacks to register to vote.
Lowell and Lynn Bass of LaGrange, Ga. said they brought their four children, ages 6-12, to give them a taste of history.
``These guys live in a totally different world. My job is to show them the sacrifice of others,'' Lynn Bass said of her sons.