U.S. Senator Kay Hagan served as a bipartisan co-leader of the Faith and Politics Institute's 13th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage in Alabama from March 1-3, 2013. Hagan was joined by a delegation of Members of Congress, religious leaders, and civil rights leaders including Congressman John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders.
"I was honored to co-lead this year's Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage alongside an American hero, Congressman John Lewis," Hagan said. "Words cannot fully express the emotions I felt visiting these sites that are so meaningful for our civil rights history. As a resident of Greensboro, I've spent many years honoring our own piece of history that took place on February 1, 1960, when four young A&T students sat at a lunch counter where they weren't welcome and sparked a movement that changed the course of history. It was a privilege to participate in events that commemorated many of the movement's other pivotal moments, including the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma."
The delegation first visited the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Also included in the pilgrimage was a tour of the Rosa Parks Museum and Martin Luther King Jr. Parsonage in Montgomery. The group then participated in a reenactment march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, commemorating the March 7, 1965, march that John Lewis led. That march is also known as "Bloody Sunday" because of the violence unleashed on the peaceful demonstrators, including Lewis who sustained a fractured skull.
In an unscripted moment that marked one of the most moving experiences of the trip, the current police chief of Montgomery, Kevin Murphy, made a personal apology to Congressman Lewis for the Department's failure to protect the Freedom Riders during their trip to Montgomery in 1961. Murphy gave Lewis his badge.
"To watch the current chief of police in Montgomery deliver a personal apology to Congressman Lewis was an unbelievable moment," said Hagan. "There were tears shed as we collectively felt the significance of this moment. The police chief shared how he teaches his officers about the department's failure on that day to ensure they understand the importance of their roles as officers of the law, and I hope that will go a long way in keeping this important history at the top of our memories."
In addition to Senator Hagan, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) served as honorary co-leaders. Representatives Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Martha Roby (R-AL), and Terri Sewell (D-AL) served as honorary co-hosts and Vice President Joe Biden delivered the keynote address.