On Sunday Jana, Brenden, Aidan and I were in Selma, Alabama for the 50th Anniversary commemoration of "Bloody Sunday" and the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March.
We started the day by going to Brown Chapel for Sunday morning worship. Brown Chapel was Ground Zero for the action in Selma. It was at the chapel where the "Bloody Sunday" marchers started out on March 7, 1965. Brown chapel was also where the marchers returned to recover and receive medical attention after the attack.
We didn't get to go inside for services at Brown Chapel. Given the dignitaries who were speaking only invited guests were allowed inside. Outside we were a part of a huge crowd (pictured here) that watched the service on a large screen out on the street. In the national news it seemed that Eric Holder's remarks during the service received the most attention, but there were other speakers as well, among them Martin Luther King III, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. The final part of Rev. Sharpton's sermon was rousing, call and response preaching at its finest.
Out in the crowd we got to meet some great people. A sweet woman who was a Sunday School teacher from Birmingham. A gentlemen who had driven down from Harlem who was a member of Abyssinian Baptist Church.
The Brown Chapel service lasted over three hours. We had to leave for a bit but returned to the Chapel for the march which was scheduled to start at 2:30.
Downtown at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge a huge crowd had gathered--with CNN helicopters flying overhead. That crowd started across the bridge around 2:30. Soon after the large crowd gathered by the chapel set out on our march, the two crowds meeting in downtown Selma creating a sea of people heading toward and over the bridge.
It was quite a human traffic jam. We'd never been in a crowd that size before. Banners were being carried. Flags were waving. Drums were being beaten. And all sorts of groups were chanting. And despite the crush of people everyone was, in our experience, patient, conscientious, nice and happy. Below is a picture of and from the crowd moving toward the bridge, along with a Beck family selfie:
Obviously, there was an emphasis in honoring the past, especially those who gave their lives during the struggle in Selma--Jimmy Lee Jackson, James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo and Jonathan Daniels--and those who shed their blood on "Blood Sunday." And as John Lewis noted during his introduction of President Obama on Saturday, because of these sacrifices important progress has been made since 1965.
And over and over it was said that the most important way we can honor those who sacrificed is simple: Vote.
People died--they died--and were beaten to obtain and give others the opportunity to vote. So voting is the way we best honor their sacrifice.
And yet, while the day honored the past much of the conversation focused on the challenges ahead.
The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner were still very much on everyone's minds. "Hands up, Don't Shoot," "I Can't Breathe," and "Black Lives Matter" ran through the speeches, conversations, crowds, protests and demonstrations. All day Jana and I had great conversations with the boys about the events in Ferguson and Staten Island.
There was also a lot of conversation about the disenfranchisement of six million Americans who have felony convictions, even after these citizens have paid their debt to society. Statistically, this disenfranchisement disproportionately affects African-American men, a part of "the New Jim Crow."
Finally, there was also a great deal of concern expressed about how the 1965 Voting Rights Act itself is being weakened, by the Supreme Court striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act (federal supervision of states with a history of racial discrimination) and states passing voter suppression legislation.
So the mood in Selma was mixed. A whole lot of joy and gratitude. But also a lot of worry, anger and determination for the struggle ahead.
After a few hours the Beck family finally made it over the bridge. Standing in front of a memorial to John Lewis on the other side I was inspired by an African proverb written there:
"When we pray we move our feet."
Fifty years ago a bridge was crossed in Selma. And there are bridges still out in front of us.
May we pray. And keep moving our feet.