Thoughts From Selma (Bloody Sunday March)
I had the honor of participating in the 53rd Anniversary of the Bloody Sunday March. It was a transformative experience. Gathering with thousands of people to honor the sacrifice of so many, while also acknowledging the work that remains to be done.
Selma is a site of memory. A place where we gather to remember the importance of resistance to racism, segregation, othering and violence (physical and economic). Selma is also a reminder of what it means to believe a cause is so worthy, you would sacrifice your life to see it come to fruition. Fruition not just for yourself, but for those who aren’t even born.
I went as a chaperone with a group that included 3 church youth groups and a girl scout troop. It was a wonderful experience for the kids to see the force of collective advocacy. They also had the chance to see civil rights icons and politicians, including: Congressman John Lewis, Mrs. Juanita Abernathy, Senator Kamala Harris, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. William Barber and so many others.
As our charter bus approached the Edmund Pettis bridge, the gateway into downtown Selma, I was struck at the difference in the law enforcement who met us and the ones who were awaiting the marchers on Bloody Sunday in 1965.
While it may seem like an obvious observation, it wasn't. I paused and attempted to compare my level of comfort with seeing African-American police officers, with what must have have felt like sheer terror for the marchers. They knew there was a high likelihood they would be confronted with state sanctioned violence. Violence where there would be no recourse and no redress due to injuries, loss or even death.
It was great to see those who walked across the bridge during Bloody Sunday still leading the march towards equality, justice and righteousness. However, I was faced with a rather sobering thought, they are getting older. I'm certainly not wishing the demise of anyone, but the reality is time waits for no man or woman. So I began to wonder, what happens when they've passed away. What happens to this site of memory when Congressman Lewis, Mrs. Abernathy and Rev. Jackson are either no longer able to lead this march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge?
Will the march have the same meaning, when those who participated are no longer here to remind us of the sacrifice? Their eyewitness accounts no longer there to provide a tangible link between 1965 and current struggles. How do we safeguard the importance of this historical and cultural memory? How do we keep it from fading away and losing its relevance?
There is certainly a strong force amongst the 50 and under demographic when it comes to advocating for social justice and human rights? Does that force include keeping/ making the connections between Civil Rights era battles and today's battles for civil and human rights? Will Gen X, Y, millennials and digital babies pick up the mantle and keep the memory of Bloody Sunday alive? Will we allow it to fade into away? Or more tragically, will we place Selma in "competition" with the modern sites of memory (Baltimore, Ferguson, etc.) and in the process weaken/ cheapen the significance of all of the sites of memory.
Sadly, there is still a lot of work to do; however, with each passing day, there are new laborers being called to work in this vineyard we call America. I left Selma feeling hopeful. I was reminded of a passage of Scripture: Matthew 19:20, " For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." Amazing things can happen when people come together for the good of God's people. I'm looking forward to being in the number in Selma again and if you haven't attended before, I strongly encourage to attend the march in 2019.
Elliott Robinson, JD, MDiv