They asked us not to forget the 911 attacks! I would ask them not to forget Tulsa, Oklahoma or the brutal terrorist acts on peaceful black people marching for the promised right to vote and the simple right to exist. One such attack was the Bloody Sunday rampage, and the atrocity at the hands of white bigots might be more appropriate. I’ll add that this act of terror and brutality was under orders of the government issued to the police. If it sounds familiar, we saw the same thing this past summer in Ferguson, MO. So we have not moved very much in terms of racism, particularly when you read the DOJ report and see other racial events around the nation. White Supremacy is still evident, and racism is not dead.
What is lost in the Selma story is that, in large part, it all began as a result of the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson. Another significant fact is that the bridge is named Edmund Pettus, an enthusiastic champion of the Confederate cause and slavery. Pettus was a delegate to the secession convention in Mississippi and a Grand Wizard of the KKK. Ironic that a staunchly racist and bigoted so-called patriots name is connected with being the spark to give unheard of civil rights to the people he hated.
This was in no way the most horrific crime by the wretched system of racism in America. There was Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma where planes were used to bomb a black community. There were also, by most accounts, nearly five-thousand lynching’s during the first half of the last century with many for the entertainment for the white community. There was also the horrific murder of children like Emmitt Till and the bombing that killed four innocent little girls in a Birmingham church. Appalling and despicable acts of terror perpetrated by America’s homegrown terrorist like the KKK and others the so-called law.
Back to the March, between 1961 and 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led voting registration campaigns in Selma, Alabama, a small town with a record of consistent resistance to black voting. When SNCC’s efforts were frustrated by stiff resistance from the county’s law enforcement officials and political leadership, meaning the Klan. Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were persuaded by local activists to make Selma’s intransigence to black voting a national concern.
SCLC also hoped to use the momentum of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to win federal protection for a voting rights statute. During January and February 1965, King and SCLC led a series of demonstrations to the Dallas County Courthouse. On February 17, protester Jimmy Lee Jackson was fatally shot by an Alabama state trooper. In response, a protest march from Selma to Montgomery was scheduled for March 7. Six hundred marchers assembled in Selma on Sunday, March 7, led by John Lewis and other SNCC and SCLC activists crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River en route to Montgomery.
Just short of the bridge, they found their way blocked by Alabama State Troopers and local police who ordered them to turn around. When the protesters refused, the officers shot tear gas and waded into the crowd on foot and horseback beating the nonviolent protesters with billy-clubs and ultimately hospitalizing over fifty people. What was significant about this was that all of the television networks interrupted programming to televise this horrific terror attack that became known as “Bloody Sunday”. The images were of this day of terror were beamed around the world.
Martin Luther King called for civil rights supporters to come to Selma for a second march. When members of Congress pressured him to restrain the march until a court could rule on whether the protesters deserved federal protection. King found himself torn between their requests for patience and demands of the movement activists pouring into Selma. King, still conflicted, led the second protest on March 9, but turned it around at the same bridge. King’s actions exacerbated the tension between SCLC and the more militant SNCC, who were pushing for more radical tactics that would move from nonviolent protest to win reforms to active opposition to racist institutions.
On March 21, the successful final march began with federal protection, and on August 6, 1965, the federal Voting Rights Act was passed, completing the process that King had wanted. Bloody Sunday was about more than winning a federal act. It highlighted the political pressures King was negotiating at the time, between movement radicalism and federal calls for restraint, as well as the tensions between SCLC and SNCC. In that sense, it was a successful strategy!
In closing, let me bring you back to the present, 50 years later, with this point having seen racism rear its ugly head since the election of the first black president. We’ve seen brutal acts of aggression on black people though laws and its agents, the police. To include stripping the voting rights act and in Ferguson, which is the Selma of today. We see the same issues today as they marched for then. The Republicans are no different than the Citizens Council of Selma’s day.
I get a lot of disparaging racist comment concerning what I write and post about black history. To those people, and I use that loosely; you want me to believe and love the Constitution that says I am 3/5th human and not to forget the holocaust or 911. I say, I will never forget what your ancestors did to my ancestors or believe the whitewashed version of what was done, which continue today. Truth be told, the sins of your fathers are acts of terror that I will never forget! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…