Selma march remembered

By Ron Wynn

 

Among the many historic and unforgettable events that were part of the Civil Rights Movement, few were more important or brutal than a march that occurred in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. A wave of police officers confronted 600 marchers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge. There were some mounted on horseback, others on foot. It was a straightforward attack by an armed police force on a group of protesters sworn to be nonviolent.

 

In a horrific scene captured not only in newspapers around the world, but on television, viewers watched in horror the sight of police lobbing tear gas grenades into crowds, riding horses directly on top of marchers, and cops clubbing men, women and children without restraint. Though this only lasted a few minutes, the carnage would later be called "Bloody Sunday".  This response to a peaceful demonstration was widely viewed as a critical turning point in the nation's attitude regarding segregation and opposition to Civil Rights.

 

Some five decades later, this weekend many people will return to Selma, honoring the 50th anniversary of that Selma March. It was actually the first of three held that month. One thing that's not always remembered is that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did NOT lead the first Selma March. He did participate in the second and third ones.

 

President Barack Obama and some surviving marchers, among them Representative John Lewis, will visit the site of the first and worse encounter. They will be joined by participants from the #Black Lives Matter movement, including many who've also participated in marches held in both Ferguson, Missouri and New York City to protect the controversial deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by police.

 

While drawing parallels is always tricky, there are many who see the emergence of this movement, and a surge in political activism and advocacy, as a contemporary version of what was happening in the '50s and '60s. "It is clear that the struggle continues", human rights attorney Nicole Lee said to The Root.

 

Lynda Blackmon Lowery marched in Selma as a 15-year-old. She was among the youngest people on the Bridge that day. "Racism never went anywhere",  Lowery adds. "Racism just took a nap, and when it woke up, we were watching..all those stupid reality shows. We let everything pass by us, and and then we complain".

 

Former Atlanta Mayor and UN Ambassador Andrew Young was one of Dr. King's closest aides, as well as an organizer in the Southern Leadership Conference. He hopes returning to the site will provide some needed perspective on the March. "There was nothing magic about Selma", Young adds. "Selma just gave us the right to vote. But if you don't vote, and don't take advantage of that right, you're still living in a pre-Selma age."

 

Also often forgotten is why the SCLC chose Selma. It was then known as "the most segregated city in America". Jackson's killing was a catalyst for the idea to march from Selma to Montgomery. SCLC organizers began plotting it at his funeral. But no one actually anticipated police would attack a demonstration in mass fashion.

 

It was such a stunning event ABC interrupted its Sunday Night movie to spotlight the spectacle of police cracking men, women and children over the head with billy clubs and firing tear gas grenades into crowds. Audiences saw this live for 15 uninterrupted minutes. When it ended, there were 84 people injured, with Lewis suffering a skull fracture.

 

Dr. King led a second March a few days after "Bloody Sunday",  and a third that finally saw the demonstrators actually make it from Selma to Montgomery. The three Marches culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act five months later. Then in 2004, Fowler confessed to a newspaper reporter that he had indeed shot Jackson. He claimed it was in self defense after Jackson hit him on the head with a bottle. It took another six years, but Fowler eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced. Unfortunately, he only got six months in jail.

 

MSNBC will present special programming throughout the weekend. But aside from the celebration and the necessity for always remembering history's lessons, there's the question of whether the injuries that many who were attacked that day on the Edmund Pettis Bridge suffered were in vain. Hopefully, that will not prove to be the case.