Today is the 50 anniversary of the day most Americans heard about Selma, Alabama. March 7, 1965 was a rough day.
The events actually began on February 18th when a 26 year old black man named Jimmie Lee Jackson (1938-1965) was shot to death by an Alabama state trooper. Mr. Jackson, a deacon in his church, was trying to protect his mother from being beaten up. This incident, combined with the institution of segregation and roadblocks placed to make sure people of color could not register to vote, boiled over. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) and his organization the Souther Christian Leadership Conference, together with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organized a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, the state capital 50 miles away.
But on their way out of town they were stopped at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and attacked by law enforcement. It’s worth noting that the bridge was named for a real person. Edmund Pettus (1821-1907) was a Confederate General and U.S. Senator, but is most well known for his time as a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. The bridge was completed in 1940.
National reporting of the that event, often called “Blood Sunday” shocked the nation and led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that legislated equal rights for people of all races.
So 50 years later how are we doing? On one hand very well. Nowhere in this country can you deny someone the ability to register to vote because of his or her race. Neither can you refuse to do business with someone on this basis. Our schools and neighborhoods can’t refuse admission to anyone and we even have an African American President.
An article in today’s Los Angeles Times describes how two police officers and a court clerk lost their jobs over emails. This takes place in Ferguson, Missouri, a town that doesn’t need any more bad news. One email compared President Obama to a chimpanzee; another stated that he wouldn’t be in office for very long because a black man can’t hold a job. Finally one email reported that a black woman was paid to have an abortion as an anti crime measure.
In Selma the famous bridge is still named after the Grand Dragon of the KKK. And if that weren’t enough, in 2000 the city paid for a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-1877), one of the founders of the KKK.
My thoughts and prayers are still for Mr. Jackson. You can see a tribute to him here.