(RNS) An African-American Baptist minister who took part in the historic civil rights marches in Selma, Ala., has been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of all the “foot soldiers” for voting rights.
The Rev. Frederick D. Reese said at the U.S. Capitol ceremony that God enabled the civil rights leaders to endure the beatings they faced as they worked for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Had it not been for the Lord on our side, we would have perished by the way,” said Reese, 86, who has served as a longtime pastor and leader of the Dallas County Voters League that invited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Selma.
RELATED STORY: The road from Selma was paved with the blood of four unsung martyrs
“They taught us that only a good country can be truly a free country,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., at the Wednesday (Feb. 24) ceremony. “I am honored, honored and proud to present this medal to the foot soldiers who marched because they have added immensely to the glory of America.”
The Alabama delegation of Congress had called for civil rights workers to receive the medal.
“I am proud to have Rev. Frederick D. Reese of Selma receive this great honor on behalf of the Foot Soldiers who participated in 1965 Selma to Montgomery Marches,” said Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., in a statement. “His acceptance of this Congressional Gold Medal is emblematic of everyone who marched, prayed and died in the pursuit of civil and voting rights in America.”
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and a fellow foot soldier, joined Reese at the ceremony in expressing thanks for the honor.
“So thank you from each and every one who marched, who prayed, who never gave up, who never gave in, who kept the faith and kept their eyes on the prize,” he said.
(Adelle M. Banks is production editor and a national reporter for RNS)
Watch a PBS Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly story about the Selma marches and Rev. Reese:
Watch C-Span coverage of Thursday’s Congressional ceremony: