They sought the vote,
The franchise of American democracy,
Denied them by oppressive law
Denied them by the mores of the time,
Denied them by the agents of the state,
Denied them by an education
Denied them by the state,
Denied them by a test of education
Denied them, which they could not pass.
And so they came unto the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
A wall of officers,
The agents of the people,
Denied them passage.
On horses and on foot
The deputies and troopers charged.
They beat the marchers with their fists.
They beat the marchers with their clubs.
They beat the marchers’ lungs with gas.
They beat the marchers’ hope with violence.
They won the day.
They lost their goal.
Today, O God, the force of racism
It’s subtler now, or tries to be.
Does anyone really believe
That laws requiring ID for a voter
Don’t they protect instead
The ones in power
From the ones, whose skin is dark,
Who otherwise would vote?
Does not the need
Which mothers, African-American, Hispanic,
Feel to give, “The Talk,”
Not regarding love and sex,
But how to encounter the police
Expose injustice that endures?
What bridges, God, remain for us to cross?
The blood that stained the Edmund Pettus Bridge
Reproaches us for half a century.
The blood that stains the streets of cities now
Repoaches us again.
How shall we cross the bridge of justice?
How shall we cross the bridge of peace?
How shall we cross the bridge of penitence?
Do not forgive us, God,
Until the marchers cross the bridge
And we, repenting, join them.