Fifty years ago this month, an event took place that drastically changed our nation. It began on March 7, 1965, with what had been planned as a peaceful protest to call for voting rights for African Americans. In Selma, Rev. Hosea Williams and John Lewis led 600 folks toward Montgomery, Ala., where they would gather at the steps of the state capitol building. But it was not to be. Barely at the edge of town, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers were met with violent resistance by Alabama State Troopers and Sheriff’s deputies. Marchers were beaten, and the event came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” The eyes of the nation were once again drawn to the civil rights battle and Alabama would play a key role.
Fortunately, the movement was undeterred, only delayed, and the rest is history. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on March 22, hundreds of protesters once again set out to march toward Montgomery. In the next four days, they traveled the 54 miles between Selma and Montgomery. The march was still marred by violence. On the night of March 25, after stopping for the night to rest in Lowndes County, Viola Luizzo, a white mother of five from Detroit, was assassinated by members of the Ku Klux Klan. She had traveled to Montgomery to add her voice to the call for voting rights for people of all races. By the time marchers reached the Alabama State Capitol, they had become a crowd numbering 25,000.
On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting. The events in Selma had brought to the nation’s attention the need for change. Many young people today don’t fully realize how important “Bloody Sunday” and the events that followed were for America.
Throughout the month of March, there will be special events in Selma, Lowndes County and Montgomery to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush, and other national, state and local leaders will visit Selma on March 7, the anniversary of Bloody Sunday. The Lowndes County Interpretive Center, which is located near where the marchers camped at “Tent City,” is open year-round with information about the historic Voting Rights March.
Montgomery will host a number of events as well. Alabama State University will host a concert with headliner Patti LaBelle on March 7 to honor the 50th anniversary of the march. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will screen “Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot” on March 7. The film focuses on the role of teachers and students in the Selma-to-Montgomery March. The City of Montgomery, Montgomery County, the City of St. Jude, Alabama State University, Montgomery Public Schools, SPLC and others have partnered to craft educational experiences for students during the week of March 23-27, including the Dream Marches on Youth Tour. The tour will offer participants a tangible link to America’s history and the Civil Rights movement through visits to sites in Selma, Montgomery, Tuskegee and Lowndes County. There will be a Celebration of the Stars for Freedom Rally in Montgomery on March 24.
These are just a very few of the many, many activities planned throughout the month. Visit the official website for the anniversary at www.dreammarcheson.com for a full list of events in each participating area. It is amazing to stop and think of the world-changing events that have taken place in Alabama, and right here in Montgomery. We must all continue the fight that started at a bridge in Selma and work diligently to make ours a country where all men are truly not only created equally, but treated equally.
The right to vote is a cherished one and we can’t let racist politics take away that right from any segment of our population. We have seen in recent years overt attempts to dilute the political influence of African-American citizens. That can’t and won’t be tolerated. Hopefully, after the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the events of this month has dimmed, the fight for true equality in Congress will continue and actually intensify. It’s past time for Dr. King’s dream to become a reality. That it will come about soon is my prayer for America.
Sources: dreammarcheson.com; City of Montgomery, Montgomery Area Convention & Visitor Bureau
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