WOODBURY - This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of what's known as "Bloody Sunday," when protesters in a civil rights march were beaten and tear-gassed in Selma.
On that day, state troopers violently attacked hundreds of peaceful demonstrators marching from Selma to Montgomery as they protested for black voting rights.
Civil rights pioneer Joseph McNeil, of Hempstead, remembers watching the shocking violence on television. McNeil was a member of the Greensboro Four, a group of college students that spearheaded the sit-in protests to desegregate lunch counters in the South in 1960.
As a fellow freedom fighter in the civil rights movement, McNeil understood the conviction of the Selma protesters to secure the right to vote.
Despite the 14th and 15th Amendments guaranteeing the civil rights of black Americans, their right to vote was systematically taken away by white supremacist state governments. The images of state troopers attacking nonviolent Selma marchers with billy clubs, cattle prods and tear gas jolted the conscience of the nation. Five months later on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, outlawing discriminatory voting practices.
“The sacrifices made…Those people who lost their lives so that me, my children, you and your children, all of us can live a better life with a sense of dignity,” McNeil told News 12.
This weekend, thousands of people from across the country will gather in Selma to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march. President Barack Obama will speak at the bridge Saturday.