This year marks the 52nd annual commemoration of Hosea Williams, John Lewis, and their fellow freedom fighters’ march over Edmund Pettus Bridge. A movie was made in honor of the historical event (Selma, 2014). With their arms locked and heads held high, the brave activist attempted to cross from one end of the bridge to the other side. However, waiting for them at the other end was white law enforcement officers, Alabama State Troopers, on guard with tear gas and batons. They proceeded to beat many protestors that day, some to death and others within an inch of their lives. What was supposed to be a statement-making, attention-grabbing, 54-mile march all the way to Montgomery, Alablama, was cut short. But these leaders–men, women, boys, and girls–still managed to make a statement.
Among the brave souls were Congressman John Lewis, who recalls Bloody Sunday’s brutal attack on him and his people quite vividly. He stated on Twitter that he still couldn’t figure out how they made it back alive after the Klansmen and officers attacked. Concussed, but not discouraged, John Lewis, MLK, and Abbernathy tried again 2 weeks later to march into Montgomery. They merely wanted to be heard and their voting rights be changed, but appeared as a threat to authoritative figures (white supremacists) who called the march unlawful. After their attempts were shut down, they finally made it into Montgomery to the steps of the Capitol and it was there Dr. King made a statement still applicable today:
“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. That will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.”
Valdosta State University’s Housing and Residence Life Diversity and Inclusion Committee afforded students the opportunity to travel to Selma, free of charge, on Sunday March 5th for The 2017 Bridge Crossing Jubilee. Physically being there, on the premises, where such a monumental moment in history occurred is insurmountable. Although the original event took place on March 7, 1965, the courage that those people of all backgrounds and walks of life displayed then, seemed to loom in the air fifty-two years later. One of the speakers in attendance at this year’s event said, “all they wanted was to be able to vote and because of them, now, whether you are rich or poor–the hands that picked cotton can now pick our presidents.” When you let that resonate and think about how short of a time that was ago, it provides clarity as to how much we really have overcome as a people. Despite the long road ahead and some history repeating itself, we must be thankful that we are not where we once were.
My journey across the bridge sparked questions, such as, “why has the Edmund Pettus Bridge not been renamed since then?” He was no hero or leader, he was a Grand Dragon, the highest-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan and Senator in Alabama. It is my hope that we strip the pride away from people who are honored simply because of their positions held, especially if no good comes from them holding said positions. History should never be glazed over, erased, or forgotten; however, simply because someone was once praised or admired by people, does not mean that they should continue to be years after. Edmund Pettus happens to be an example. Regardless, the bridge named in his honor will always hold great value to the African American community and their literal march towards progress.
I strongly encourage you to get out and take advantage to celebrate and remember history.