The 50th Anniversary of "Bloody Sunday"

Fifty years ago today, on March 7th, 1965, was "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama. This was the day when Civil Right activists were attacked by police officers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The marchers were planning to walk to Montgomery, the state capital, to protest the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson and to continue their demands for voting rights legislation.

I've walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge twice. Once with my family and once with ACU students on the ACU Freedom Ride. Click on those links for pictures and more history about "Bloody Sunday."

Tomorrow I'll walk the bridge for a third time. Jana, the boys and I are driving to Selma today to participate, with thousands of others, in the bridge crossing on this the 50th anniversary weekend of "Blood Sunday."

While we are sad to miss today, because we're on the road, the speeches of Presidents Bush and Obama in Selma I'd rather catch a glimpse of John Lewis who is leading the march on Sunday.

John Lewis is a hero of mine. 

And the struggle continues...

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10 thoughts on “The 50th Anniversary of "Bloody Sunday"”

  1. The country is in deep trouble. We've forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it. We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that's the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.
    West, Cornel.

  2. Great top photo (and more powerful in "black and white" than it would be in colour): the cruel kinetic encounters the calm kenotic.

  3. I thought the President's remarks yesterday in Selma placed the progress we have made since Selma in general and Ferguson in particular in proper perspective. "What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom; and before the civil rights movement, it most surely was."

    He elaborated by saying that those who deny we have made progress do the nation and the cause of equality a disservice, then hastens to add. "a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, " I agree that both those who see racism everywhere and those who see racism nowhere serve to polarize the nation and serve as obstacles to achieving a nation where we citizens are judged based on content of character rather than skin color. I don't believe it is a given that it is "more common" to believe racism is banished, but that's a small enough quibble.

    I suspect most Americans would agree that we have come light years since the events of Selma fifty years ago, and that we have not eradicated the last, stubborn vestiges of hard core discrimination. That makes Selma both a time to remember and to celebrate.

  4. "Light years"? I guess I'm one of those not-among-the-most Americans who, of course, celebrates Selma, yet who despairs how little progress has been made in the last 50 (50!) years -- that's 2 (2!) generations; that is, how visible judicial racial progress has more than been offset by institutionally racist entrenchment. Impatiently critiquing The Help (which she describes as "science fiction"), Roxane Gay writes, "I am troubled by how little has changed. I am troubled by how complacently we are willing to consume these often revisionist stories of this country's complex and painful racial history. History is important, but sometimes the past renders me hopeless and helpless."

    History is indeed important. Like the often-forgotten history of Martin Luther King himself. As James Cone observes, "The 'How Long? Not Long!' address may be regarded as the climax of the first phase of the intellectual development of Martin King's theo-political perspective." Climax -- and conclusion: "After Selma ... the second and most important phase of Martin's thinking began to emerge. This development ... was characterized by the shattering of his dream and his movement slowly toward the philosophy of Malcolm X."

    For just a few months after Selma there was Watts, followed by King's move to Chicago to experience at first-hand Northern racism and urban black despair, followed by his game-changing realisation that legislative equality, important as it is, cannot get to the roots of racism. What dawned on King above the Mason-Dixon Line is not only the insidious reality of what we would now call "systemic" racism, but also its intrinsic connection to economic (class) injustice and the military-(post)industrial complex (hence his organisation of the Poor People's Campaign and his scathing condemnation of the Vietnam War). (Cone discusses these issues and themes in Malcolm & Martin & America: A Dream or a Nightmare? [1999] -- in a chapter entitled "Shattered Dreams".)

    Now fast-forward to the 50th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech, less than two years ago. Asked what he would say were he invited to speak at the celebration of the March on Washington, Cornel West, echoing the later King, referred to the presidential plantations -- including the "Obama plantation -- and the social forces behind those plantations," insisting on "the connection between drones, new Jim Crow, [the] prison-industrial complex, attacks on the working class, escalating profits at the top," and concluding, "I don't hold my breath. But Brother Martin's spirit would want somebody to push it. And that's part of his connection with Malcolm X."

    Observe West's take on racism in the teenies amounts to an updated version on King's take on racism in the sixties. And the events of 2014 -- particularly, of course, the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, but think of them synecdochically -- do they not make West's case even stronger? And then when you consider that some analysts have spoken of contemporary threats to, even the evisceration of, the 1965 Voting Rights Act itself ...

    In short, yes, I celebrate Selma. But old Jim Crow -- he has a way of adapting and reinventing himself, a snake shedding its skin while retaining a venom as toxic as ever.

  5. "If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better."- President Barack Obama

  6. Paul, I recall you being more sanguine than I, back in December, about CIA torture techniques too.

    It is also interesting that you mention a black attorney general and a black president, who mentions a woman CEO. That is, the greatest among us, and if they can do it -- i.e., use the system -- (so we are told) anybody can do it. But it's not true, and in any case, the "system" remains intact. This is a "respectability politics" that apes the dominant white culture, often deals in negative African American stereotyping (as Obama himself was criticised for doing in comments he made after the Ferguson grand jury decision), and egregiously underestimates the the tenacity of institutional racism with its "lockdown" (literally and figuratively) on the least of these.

    Again, I agree that there has been progress, but whereas you measure it in light years with only miles to go, I'd measue it in miles with miles and miles and miles to go. Of course I really hope I'm wrong.

  7. I would not characterize characterize my view of water boarding and such as upbeat. I cited what I considered much worse examples of horrific actions we have taken as a nation in times of war. I doubt anyone is proud of these moments, including those that approved them. It was not my point to justify these decisions so much as it was to place them in context. Faced with the prospect of a prolonged war with house to house urban combat, a decision was made to break the will of the people by bombing civilian population centers to hasten the end of WWII. Leaders were left to choose the lesser evil. I don't know that I would have made the same decisions, or that they were the correct ones. I'll let history judge. I'd simply caution that decisions are often messier than those at a safe distance make them out to be, with negative consequences for whichever path we take.

    I am clearly more sanguine than you regarding race relations in the United States. I didn't cite prominent black leaders at the Selma commemoration to say that if they can succeed, anybody can do it. I wondered if the marchers 50 years ago would have imagined that any black man would hold such positions of prominence.

    At least we agree there's more to be done. I suspect though, that I am not as quick as you to embrace institutional racism as THE causal explanation for how to move forward. You look to Cornell West for understanding. I'd dust off the Moynihan Report and look at the evidence supporting the premises of both Moynihan and West before assuming high rates of incarceration are the sole result of institutional racism within the justice system. I suspect there is some validity to both hypotheses.

    I'll end with this: Our future is clearly multicultural, a nation in which no one racial/ethnic group will hold a majority. Our survival is dependent on finding pathways to upward mobility for historically marginalized populations and for people from vastly different backgrounds to work together for the common good rather than advancing their group at the expense of other groups. Not many nations have accomplished these tasks. Tribalism often prevails. I hope we prove to be the exception.

  8. John Lewis remembers. Powerful, first hand pictures andpersonal recollentions.

  9. John Lewis is a hero of mine as well. His appearance on "On Being" with Krista Tippett was pure greatness.

  10. Sorry I missed seeing you all. I know you were as moved as all of us were. We took a lady who joined the march in Montgomery in 1965. She spent two and one-half days in jail with 15 others in the same cell. So going back on the 50th anniversary was a dream come true for her. So much to report, so I'm writing up our experiences on Saturday and Sunday. Will send you the article and pics when completed. There were about as many on the eastern side of the bridge as on the western side. I've seen an estimate of 70,000. I know there were as many as you would see at a U of Tennessee football game in Knoxville. Try to watch a clip of the president's speech; I thought it was powerful and sounded like an old-time revival message with his usual charismatic eloquence.

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