Honoring the Foot Soldiers of the 1965 Voting Rights Marches

House Speaker Paul Ryan standing behind a podium next to the U.S. flag

House Speaker Paul Ryan led the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony honoring the Foot Soldiers of the 1965 protests.

Reverend Dr. Frederick Douglas Reese

Reverend Dr. Frederick Douglas Reese, Foot Soldier and an organizer of the protests.

Ms. Dana Kristina-Joi Morgan playing on the piano

'My Tribute' by pianist Ms. Dana Kristina-Joi Morgan.

Alicia Thornton Smiley and her husband Harold Smiley

Alicia Thornton Smiley and her husband Harold Smiley were in 8th grade and participated in the marches. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed at Mr. Smiley's uncle's house. Mr. Smiley says Reverend King told him that during the march to Be careful, stay in one group, and take care of yourself.

John Vatterott with his niece Ellie

John Vatterott with his niece Ellie, both of St. Louis. John's father, Charles F. Vatterott, Jr. chartered two airplanes to bring people of all faiths from St. Louis to join the marches in Alabama. He also brought $25,000 cash in case the demonstrators needed bail money.

Frederick Scott

Frederick Scott, now of Austin Texas, participated in the marches as a youngster. He said he felt no fear, but that his parents were worried about repercussions if he marched.

The Congressional Gold Medal

The Congressional Gold Medal

 House Speaker Paul Ryan holding a medal with Reverend Dr. Frederick Douglas Reese

Honoring the Foot Soldiers of the 1965 Voting Rights Marches (From left to right, top row: Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL), Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-7), Sen. Cory Booker (NJ). (first row): House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-12), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (NV), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), Reverend Dr. Frederick Douglas Reese, Rep. John Lewis (GA), and a representative from the National Park Service.

Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Foot Soldiers Marchers

In 1965, the Selma Foot Soldiers answered the call and peacefully marched for voting rights for African Americans. They endured violence and vicious beatings, but their persistence, passion and strong beliefs led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

On February 24, 2016, the Congressional Gold Medal was presented to the marchers who took part in the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama protests. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said, "The foot soldiers' contributions to our country was so great that they deserve the highest honor in our possession, the Congressional Gold Medal."

Dozens of the marchers and their family members were present for the ceremony. The group included Representative John Lewis (D-GA) who helped lead the marches with Reverend Frederick Douglas Reese and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Lewis reminded the crowd that the marchers "…weren't rich or famous. They had very little money. Some of them never learned to read or write, but they changed the nation for the better."

You can watch the full ceremony here: http://www.speaker.gov/photos-and-video