This weekend I was in Selma, AL. I was among thousands who came to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic marches from Selma to Montgomery, which were organized with the help Martin Luther King, Jr. in the name of civil rights. For anyone who isn’t aware of what I am talking about the marches were started in order to counteract the opposition and violence towards African Americans who simply wanted to be respected and regarded as equal citizens in America. The need to put pressure on former president Lyndon B. Johnson to push the Voting Rights Act forward was the immediate goal, but the greater picture was to attempt to end the institutional and cultural discrimination against African Americans.
The first march, known as “Bloody Sunday” took place on March 7, 1965. This march was led by John Lewis (currently a member of the US House of Representatives), but the 600 marchers were intercepted, beaten, and brutalized by state troopers. Many attempted to flea but the troopers were ruthless. They used tear gas and ran through the crowds beating anyone that they could get their hands on, some road on horses knocking everyone including women and elderly to the ground.
Although many suffered, the foot soldiers were not deterred. The outrage over the brutality that their peaceful protest incited only reaffirmed the fact that this institutional oppression would not be tolerated any longer. They re-organized and embarked on another march on March 9th even though there was a court order against it. Dr. King led the march, but after they congregated at the bridge Dr. King and all 2,500 kneeled for a moment of prayer. After which, Dr. King disbanded the marchers. This day became known as “Turnaround Tuesday.”
The final march took place on March 21, 1965. The injunction against the march had been lifted and this time clergy from numerous religions, people from many races, and civil rights leaders participated in the march. Over 3,000 people began to walk from Selma to Montgomery. This time they had police protection as well as supporters that aided the marchers along the way. The march took five days in total and at the culmination of the march Dr. King delivered the speech “How Long, Not Long” at the state capitol.
The marches were not only credited to pushing forward the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They also shined an international light on the injustices that were occurring in America, and how painfully brutal they were in the south.
One of the most amazing things about the 50th anniversary was that people came together in Selma to honor the events of Selma in 1965, but also to discuss present day issues. This was one of the things that President Obama addressed in his speech that he delivered on Saturday at the foot of Edmund Pettus Bridge. Towards the end of his speech he said something that really stuck with me. He said, “We honor those who walked so we could run; we must run so our children soar.”
People banded together to recognize the courageousness of the foot soldiers fifty years ago and to pull strength from their great accomplishment. There is so much that we can still do to make this world and this country a more democratic place. However, what every single person that stood in this crowd on Sunday recognized is that if those peaceful protestors survived Bloody Sunday and came back even stronger then we can remain determined. If they survived that then maybe we can do something about the fact that states are still trying to hinder gay marriage, that girls are raped and sexually abused every day and shamed into thinking that it is their fault, and that even in 2015 fraternities sing songs promoting violence and segregation for fun.
This weekend, people were in Selma representing movements for human rights of all kinds. In a world full of hate and discrimination I was surrounded by individuals who are fighting for a better future. I was standing next to individuals who were standing up for injustices and I was overcome with hope.