“History matters,” the president said during a speech at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where a march of hundreds of peaceful activists was violently suppressed by police on March 7, 1965.
“Bloody Sunday” only catalyzed support for Black rights and led a few months later to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, a federal law prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.
The marchers “forced the country to confront the hard truth,” Biden said, accusing today’s Republican opposition of trying to “hide the truth” of history.
“No matter how hard some people try, we can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know,” he said, as debate rages over how US history is taught in America’s schools.
“We should learn everything. The good, the bad, the truth of who we are as a nation, and everyone should know the truth of Selma.”
Several conservative states have passed laws since 2020 to ban the teaching of critical race theory, an academic discipline investigating systemic racism in American society.
Republican Florida Governor Ron de Santis, considered a favorite for his party’s 2024 presidential nomination, recently defended a ban on a high school African American studies course, railing against it as “indoctrination” that pushes “social justice” topics such as “queer theory.”
In his speech, Biden said the country must remain vigilant in defending voting freedoms, saying the Voting Rights Act had been gutted by the conservative-dominated Supreme Court and threatened by dozens of voting reform laws passed in conservative-led states. Critics say these changes make it harder for Black and other minority people to cast ballots.
The 80-year-old president, whose political career has relied heavily on the support of African American voters, has urged Congress to adopt major electoral reform but it has been blocked by Republicans.