The Turning Point -- and the No Turning Back Point

Washington Matters

The Turning Point -- and the No Turning Back Point

The often tedious conversations on the Sunday political talk shows were especially tedious and predictable yesterday as each panel visited and revisited what each yacker saw as the key turning point of the presidential campaign. Until it was Donna Brazile's turn on Meet the Press.

Brazile, a longtime Democratic activist, skipped over Barack Obama's strategy, his race speech in Philadelphia, the selection of Joe Biden as a running mate. ... In fact, she skipped more than 40 years and called the real turning point for this election the Bloody Sunday voting rights march in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965. Indeed, it's hard to think of many other events as culturually and historically significant as the very likely election of an African American as president Tuesday night tied so closely to one specific event.

Bloody Sunday was supposed to be the start of a march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery to protest laws and rules that prevented blacks from registering to vote. More than 500 marchers made it to the crest of the Edmund Pettus Bridge before seeing a wall of hundreds of local police, many putting gas masks and pulling out night sticks. March leaders John Lewis, later a House member from Georgia, and Hosea Williams kept the marchers moving despite their absolute certainty of the violence that would be rained down on them. Lewis was beaten so severely he thought he was going to die. He and 50 other marchers were hospitalized.

Television cameras captured the police attack and outrage and revulsion spread nationwide as the beatings of unarmed marchers was televised Sunday and Monday. The furor gave new life to the languishing Voting Rights Act, which passed Congress less than six months later.

Lewis often recounts how Martin Luther King visited him in the hospital and assured him not only that the march would continue and be completed (it was), but that the voting rights act would be passed because of what had happened on the Pettus bridge. I doubt, however, that this man who nearly died for the right to cast a ballot could ever have envisioned -- then or even a year ago -- about the very real prospect of wokring as a member of Congress to enact the agenda of a African American president.