No one has good recollections of Selma.
I won’t tell you all of the things that happened on Bloody Sunday. I myself didn’t know the story until recently. I was writing an article for the newspaper. A local man was there when it happened. He had his story to tell. So it goes.
So it goes that, back in the sixties, African-Americans weren’t allowed to vote — even though they legally were. In the South, in places like Selma, only two percent of blacks had been able to register. Because of this, and because of the senseless killing of a man named Jimmie Lee Jackson, protestors organized a march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. They were trying to gain national support for their cause. They were trying to gain what should have already had: Equality.
Even if you don’t know the story, you might be able to guess what happened next.
On that fateful spring day, the nonviolent protestors never even made it out of Selma. They were met by Alabama state troopers at the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The troopers held whips, nightsticks, and tear gas; they weren’t friendly. The ensuing beating was brutal and was televised nationally. Americans everywhere were enraged. What on earth was going on in Selma?
The end result of these events was, of course, the passing of the Voting Rights Act in August, 1965. It was a great step forward in many ways, but, sadly, far from a solution to racism. Racism is as prevalent in America today as it was then — it just appears . . . differently. Sometimes.
And the truth is, I’ll be honest: The thing that struck me most while writing this article was, no, not racism. Racism has made me sad for a very long time now. The thing that struck me was the way I saw Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement as a kid, and the way I see it now. As a kid, I didn’t even know racism existed, wasn’t even aware it was a problem. I grew up in a largely white community, but when I saw people of other races — whether Hispanic, Asian, African-American, or anyone else — my only thoughts were: “Hey! A new friend!” And when I learned about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement and the South? All of that seemed like it happened FOREVER ago. 1965 might as well have been the Dark Ages as far as I was concerned. Racism was a thing of the past.
And I guess that that’s been one of the strangest parts of “growing up” — realizing that fifty years really isn’t that long ago, and that people really do still have such a long way to go.
What is the matter with us? Will we never learn?