Friday, March 8, 2019

On Being Ordinary in Selma

I came to Selma. Finally.

I drove the 54-mile road to Montgomery, along the path where thousands walked in 1965. I saw the campsite locations for the walkers, most of whom set out on the journey - for a piece of freedom they knew the 14th amendment to the constitution had already had promised them - in their Sunday clothes.

I saw the memorial for a brave white mother from Detroit who heard the call for everyone who believed in justice, fairness, and America to come to Selma. She did. And she died.

I arrived at Alabama's state capital - one hour...not four days - later, to the grounds of St. Jude's Catholic Hospital/School with a sense of joy and relief. I cried.

Our trip began here 2 days ago, at the Edmund Pettus bridge. A quiet, sun-drenched morning put a little shine on this otherwise crumbling, poverty plagued South-Central Alabama town:

We came to remember this cold, drizzly day...March 7, 1965:

That was the day hundreds of Americans who believed every US citizen deserved the right to vote without qualification, harassment, or intimidation showed up to make a point. They would walk 54 miles to the state's capital, Montgomery, to let Alabama's segregationist governor know they were fed up with a post Civil War/ratified-14th-amendment-to-the-Constitution system that kept them from the most basic right in this country. Voting.

Those 1965 people were greeted with this on the Edmund Pettus (too much to say about who Edmund Pettus on the link) bridge:

We - my husband and I, 54 years later - threatened by nothing but shadows of ourselves:

By the time we arrived in Montgomery - unencumbered by state troopers, national guard, blisters, rain - I knew it had taken 3 separate attempts to get the march all the way to the capital. When an accumulated 10,000 marchers joined hands on the steps of Montgomery's Capitol building on March 25, 1965, more than 50 people had been hospitalized with injuries inflicted by Alabama law enforcers, and 3 people had been murdered by white supremacists.

They marched to a building to be seen and heard by an elected head of state who wouldn't come out of his office to greet them. But they were seen. They were heard. Just not by 9 year old me. Until this week.  And I am moved almost beyond words.

These people believed a bitter war had freed them 100 years before. They believed two subsequent amendments to the U.S. Constitution (13th and 14th, both ratified in 1868) had given them full rights as citizens of this country. They believed ordinary people doing extraordinary things would make a difference.

And they were right. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in August, 1965.

If I've learned anything on this Civil Rights trail of tears we've been traveling, it's that I know nothing about being tossed to the fringes of humanity. Nothing about believing in what's right. Nothing, really, about the cost of freedom. I've never had to know.

I am a white woman of great privilege, learning a history of extraordinary people.

And, I am still desperately trying to pay attention...
Thank you Selma, for the reminder that the fight of 1965 is not yet won:

There is more to do.
And more to say. Stay tuned.


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