Selma 50th Anniversary 1965-2015

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:

All through the day there was a lot of conversation--from the speakers we heard, to the conversations we had with fellow marchers, to the protests/demonstrations that were going on, to the petitions being passed--about then and now. Selma and America in 1965 and in 2015.

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.

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11 thoughts on “Selma 50th Anniversary 1965-2015”

  1. Indeed, there are challenges that must be met across the land, especially among white evangelical churches. For, within the minds of too many white church members is the ridiculous notion that limiting the power to vote for people of color is warranted because the elections are unfair for whites, in that they allow the minorities to come together and force their will over the majority; the same mindset that says, "As long as I accept people of color who are Christians as my brothers and sisters 'in Christ', then my political and social views cannot be questioned".

    In my opinion, from what I see overall among conservative churches, these views are not challenged. And the main reason subtly alluded to is, for "unity's sake", with the footnote that says, "Well, at least its not like the 1950s". But as Eugene Robinson asked this morning on Morning Joe, regarding the disgusting, horrifying events at the University of Oklahoma: "Where is this coming from; just where is this coming from?"

  2. "...too many white church members is the ridiculous, rottenness notion that limiting the power to vote for people of color is warranted because the elections are unfair for whites, in that they allow the minorities to come together and force their will over the majority" I have never challenged this view because I have never seen it in print or heard it expressed in any church I have ever attended.

    I don't find it surprising that the disgusting events at the University of Oklahoma took place. who could deny that vestiges of racism still exist. it is best to keep these vile comments in perspective, however. It should be noted that OU took prompt, decisive action and that the university president denounced those that took part in this activity in the most scathing terms possible. While not totally eliminated, such acts are, in the words of the president, "no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom."

  3. That fills in the background of the story about Abraham Joshua Heschel (z"l) - "I felt as if my feet were praying."

  4. So glad you Beck's got to attend in Selma. I lived through the struggles of black people and have always regretted that I never participated in any kind of march for the causes I believe in--or ever wrote letters to newspapers--or spoke out publicly in the face of clear injustice. I can only cheer you on!

  5. I have never challenged this view because I have never seen it in print
    or heard it expressed in any church I have ever attended.

    You mistake the unexpressed for the nonexistent. You don't have to be burning crosses or shouting the N-Word to be racist. Most racism comes well-dressed, respectable like. Racism is like an iceberg: the vast majority of it lies beneath the surface. Indeed the iceberg itself floats on a sea of systemic racism, the perniciousness of which I think you egregiously underestimate. And while Obama is right that acts like those of the members of SAE at UOK are not "sanctioned by custom or law", the fundamental contemporary problem of racism is precisely that the institutional apparatus of the New Jim Crow is.

    I know, Paul, we've already sparred on this one, nor do I expect that either of us will be delivering a knock-out punch any round soon, but I couldn't be expected just to sit in my corner, now could I?

  6. I believe you and I would get along just fine in the real world, Kim. We both desire the same end.

    Back to the issue at hand, I have a hard enough time dealing with some of the things I hear expressed without imagining what people might be thinking. My spiritual gifts don't include clairvoyance. At least not yet. The Spirit may yet surprise me.

  7. I know it exists because I grew up in it. It doesn't have to be announced from the pulpit or printed in Sunday bulletins to be real. I first heard it from the mouths of good church members when they would dismiss the votes of black people because they voted in mass for liberal and pro-civil rights Democrats; and later because they voted for black politicians "only because they were black". It was obvious, there was no mistaken notion, that these white Christians did not view the black vote as patriotic as their own. When one pays attention and listens, one hears and remembers much.

  8. So glad the Beck family made it on a long drive. I admire you for taking your family and especially your two boys. They will never forget the experience and the meaning. We could not have been very far away from you all. I'm sending you some pics. Later this week, I'll send the article I'm writing for our local paper titled "Selma: How Many Bridges Must We Cross?" To those of you who want to participate, just do it! Reserve a room sometime in August for the march the following year in March. I had a similar experience, Richard, in seeing amazing cordiality and patience. Met so many interesting people from far away places.

  9. I spoke from my experience in the churches I have attended in Texas and Georgia. I shy away from political discussions because my views are often at odds with the majority. I don't, for example, want prayer back in public school classrooms. Your experiences may well differ from my own. I will take you at your word that in your experience such views are present. And I will acknowledge that such views might be present where I attend and have attended, but I am/was ignorant of them.

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