Fifty Years Ago
It has been interesting to follow last week's coverage of the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma (March 7, 1965) for voting rights for African-Americans. In 1965 I was thirteen and have sketchy memories of the events surrounding the march. But I remember going to a march with my family in Hampton, VA, where we lived at the time, to support the movement and protest the Selma deaths--and I remember feeling vulnerable, moving as a group along the open road and thinking "this could be dangerous."
Of course this experience pales in comparison to those who were in Selma fifty years ago. All Americans are indebted to those courageous soldiers for justice who took a stand to make our democracy "a more perfect union."
During the last week, I learned that Dr. Khalilah L. Brown-Dean, an African-American and former Lynchburg resident, made a trip to Selma with her family to commemorate the march and honor its legacy. Here is her first-person account of the experience, with photos that were taken while she was there.
Our Journey to Selma
The Negro National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice,” has always been deeply moving to me. We were taught to stand when the song was played and to sing the lyrics with great reverence. But last Sunday those words took on a new, hauntingly powerful meaning.
Fifty years after 600 peaceful protesters were brutally beaten during what would become known as Bloody Sunday, my family and I gathered at the base of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. We were there to honor those brave visionaries whose collective sacrifice created opportunities that too many of us take for granted. As we approached the bridge my husband and I noticed our daughter’s hesitance. She was afraid of what was waiting for us on the other side. We reassured her, then paused to reflect on what those footsoldiers must have felt when they encountered law enforcement officials armed with billy clubs, dogs, tear gas, and a vicious sense of superiority. As we stood at the top of the bridge we heard a group of activists chanting “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” In that moment we questioned just how much had changed since 1965 when Jimmie Lee Jackson and Viola Liuzzo were shot to death simply for demanding equal treatment for all God’s children. Earlier that week the Justice Department released a scathing critique of the Ferguson Police Department while simultaneously deciding not to pursue federal charges against the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. Two days earlier, 19-year-old Tony Robinson was shot to death in Wisconsin. Three years earlier, Rekia Boyd was shot in the head and killed by an off-duty Chicago police officer.
But just like the murders of the Reverend James Reeb, Jonathan Daniels, James Cheney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman before them, these more recent deaths have given birth to a powerful movement. We looked back over the bridge and remembered that less than 24 hours earlier we stood shoulder to shoulder with people from all over the world as this nation’s first Black President acknowledged John Lewis; a man who was savagely beaten by state troopers during that fateful march yet overcame permanent injuries to become a member of the United States Congress. Progress.
We looked into the crowd and spotted the first two women to legally marry in the State of Alabama. We mouthed a silent thank you as Reverend William Barber II, architect of the Moral Monday Movement, marched by. We watched as elders in wheelchairs were escorted by young people whose first introduction to Bloody Sunday happened via a movie screen. We listened as a group who had traveled from Detroit bemoaned the attack on unions that have traditionally provided a solid path into the middle class for African Americans. We stood in solidarity with the formerly incarcerated whose banner advocated not for a second chance, but a viable first chance at achieving the American Dream. We applauded Faya Rose Toure, the Harvard-trained lawyer who founded the National Voting Rights Museum, as she admonished each of us to claim now in the present that which we hope to see for our future. We critiqued our own hubris as an American patriot who had fought for democracy abroad only to return home and be denied the vote, chastised those who fail to acknowledge the progress that has been made in this country. Our country. There on that bridge we better understood that our right to vote is cloaked in the blood, prayers, and sacrifices of our elders. That bridge is sacred ground. With each step James Weldon Johnson’s lyrics connected us to the solemnity of that moment: "We have come over a way that with tears has been watered. We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.” We left renewed and recommitted. Selma is Now.
Dr. Khalilah L. Brown-Dean is Associate Professor of Political Science at Quinnipiac University. She is an award-winning political analyst, advisor, and commentator for numerous outlets including The New York Times, The Congressional Black Caucus, NPR, WURD, CNN, Ebony Magazine.com, The Wall Street Journal, Crisis Magazine, Fox News Radio, TheGrio.com, Uptown Magazine, The Washington Post, the American Urban Radio Network, Dominion of New York, and WNPR. She sits on the Board of Directors for Prison Policy Initiative and for the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. She is co-author of a report for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies entitled, “50 Years of the Voting Rights Act: The State of Race in Politics,” that was presented in Selma. http://jointcenter.org/blog/50-years-voting-rights-act.
Moving Towards Peace
Local readers may have seen the letter in the News and Advance yesterday with the headline, "Is the U.S. pro-life? Not at all". The author offered a list of examples to support his view that our country lacks humanity and respect for life--from our use of torture, excessive police force, criminal sentencing practices, gun control policies, violence in sports and entertainment, etc. For anyone who read that letter, and saw some truth within it, you may have felt as I did--a little depressed.
But again, if we pay attention, we can also see that another story has developed, one that gives us great hope for a better future. There are many signs around the world of a global awakening, the development of a more enlightened world view. This new viewpoint is fueling trends in many countries that are changing social norms and global politics and providing evidence that the world is gradually moving toward a more peaceful existence. If you doubt this, check out this short video, "The Evolution of A Global Peace System". It will lift your spirits to start 2015 with optimism!
This Just In...
This message arrived today from Rick Wayman, Director of Programs and Operations at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF):
Did you read yesterday’s New York Times? There was a big story on the front page of the “International” section about the Nuclear Zero Lawsuits. You know that the Marshall Islands is on to something significant when the Times publishes a substantial article in its Sunday edition.
We at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation are proud to stand with the Marshall Islands as it brings these courageous legal challenges against the world’s nine nuclear-armed nations. As a consultant to the Marshall Islands, NAPF has worked tirelessly to bring the legal actions to the attention of the media and public worldwide.