By Tami Chappelle
SELMA, Ala. (Reuters) - Thousands of people began walking across a Selma, Alabama bridge on Sunday in a re-enactment of the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" march, part of a weekend of events marking the 50th anniversary of a turning point in the U.S. civil rights movement.
Some of those gathered in Selma also planned to set out Monday on a march to Montgomery along the route that Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers walked in the wake of Bloody Sunday, a march that helped spur the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965, took its name from the beating that roughly 600 peaceful civil rights activists sustained at the hands of white state troopers and police who attacked them with batons and sprayed them with tear gas on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
"It's very crowded but at the same time it's fun and really great to see everybody coming together all races, all people," one woman told CNN as marchers began moving across the bridge.
Among the demonstrators were those calling for immigration and gay rights.
President Barack Obama visited Selma on Saturday and declared the work of the U.S. civil rights movement advanced but unfinished in the face of ongoing racial tension.
"Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we're getting closer," said Obama, the first black president of the United States, as he stood near the bridge.
The anniversary comes at a time of renewed focus on racial disparities in the United States and anger over law enforcers' treatment of black civilians, among them 18-year-old Michael Brown, whose killing by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last year sparked widespread protests.
On Friday, Tony T. Robinson Jr., a 19-year-old black man who appeared to be unarmed, was shot dead by a white police officer in Madison, Wisconsin, sparking protests there.
U.S. Representative John Lewis, who led the march across the bridge 50 years ago and was knocked out by a state trooper, told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that what happened that day had led to lasting changes in civil rights.
"When I go back, I remember the bridge for me is almost a sacred place," the Georgia Democrat said. "That's where some of us gave a little blood and where some people almost died.
"What happened on that bridge has changed America forever."
(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Gareth Jones and Eric Walsh)