Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee To Honor four Civil Rights Icons

This weekend marks the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the peaceful march of more than 500 demonstrators who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery, where they were subjected to brutal violence by Alabama state troops on March 7, 1965.

For over a decade the Jubilee of crossing the bridge recognized this day and the struggle for the right to vote with a week-long commemoration and a march across the bridge. The event typically brings out 50,000 people a year. However, this year is very different. Four civil rights icons died in 2020: Congressman John Lewis who led the march, founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Joseph Lowery, the minister and confidante of Martin Luther King Jr., CT Vivian, and lawyer Bruce Boynton . This year’s celebration, which is virtual due to COVID-19, will honor them.

Drew Glover, the coordinator of this year’s Selma anniversary, told HuffPost that despite the pandemic, it’s important to still find a way to host the event and honor the civil rights giants.

“The very real meaning that it plays not only for the memory of the work of Congressman Lewis and the other great civil rights activists is, in my opinion, one of the main purposes and roles played by the anniversary, this annual commemoration and commemoration of the struggles These people had to have experience in order to give us the right to vote, ”he said.

The bloody Sunday was an important turning point in the civil rights movement. In Dallas County, Alabama, blacks made up more than half the population but made up only 2% of the registered voters. Activists, including Bernard Lafayette, co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, went to Selma to register black voters and fight for equal voting rights. When Lewis led protesters to the bridge with Martin Luther King Jr. and Hosea Williams 56 years ago, they were met by more than 100 state troops and MPs, some on horseback, others with Confederate flags.

Bettmann via Getty Images

State soldiers watch protesters cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River in Selma, Alabama, as part of a civil rights march on March 9, 1965. Two days earlier, soldiers used violence to drive protesters back across the bridge and kill one protester.

When Maj. John Cloud told them to end their peaceful protest, Williams asked to speak with him. He refused. The demonstrators held their own and marched on. Officials beat, gassed, and beat them, some almost to death. Dozens, including Lewis, were injured. At least 17 were hospitalized. The violence broadcast across the country, drawing attention to the brutality facing blacks in the south, and becoming a catalyst for the 1965 Suffrage Act.

80-year-old Lafayette was 22 when he was fighting for the right to vote in Selma a year after he was brutally beaten during the Freedom Rides.

“No matter what happens to you, you have to keep the fight going. And the reason we were able to make change is that we could keep fighting. We made this stop on the bridge. We crossed the bridge and stopped on the bridge, ”Lafeyette told HuffPost about the courage to be a foot soldier on the move. Despite not being at the bridge on Bloody Sunday, Lafayette worked tirelessly on the Selma Marches in 1965. He helped recruit members of the Chicago gang to organize the protests. He said their nonviolent strategies had progressed, but the struggle continued.

In 2013, the Supreme Court threw down important parts of the Voting Rights Act that prevented states from authorizing discriminatory voting practices. For almost a decade, the voting rights of marginalized groups have been attacked.

“I think we need to appreciate the fact that the fight is not over while we have accomplished some things. We also had some setbacks, ”said Lafayette. “We could not have foreseen that the voting rights law would be attacked.”

Glover said today’s voter suppression, police brutality, and systemic repression are akin to what activists fought against in 1965.

“One of the main reasons we felt it was still important to have the event this year, and even move it virtually due to the pandemic, is the urgency to make sure this story and the nature of the experience being recorded of those people who mattered Against all odds and using nonviolent social change tactics to make an impact, it is important that we take this story up and keep it in the conversation across generations, ”said Glover.

This year’s events started on Friday and ended on Sunday. This year’s theme is “Beyond the Bridge: People’s Power, Political Power, Economic Power” and includes panels, a symposium on social change, workshops on effective organization, virtual concerts and a Sunday morning service with a ride over the bridge and then that Laying a wreath. People at home can attend a virtual bridge crossing presentation.

Thousands of people walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the 50th anniversary on March 8, 2015 in Selma, Alabama.  Thi

Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Thousands of people walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the 50th anniversary on March 8, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. This year marks its 56th anniversary, and due to the coronavirus pandemic, memorial services are being held remotely.

Throughout the weekend, organizers, activists, and other attendees will honor the lives and memories of Lewis, Vivian, Lowery, and Boynton.

Tafeni L. English, director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said attendees shouldn’t lose the fact that the same voting rights at stake today that hundreds of protesters fought for in 1965.

“I think it’s great that this year’s anniversary is very much intended in the language of hosting this event in the spirit of John Lewis, CT Vivian, Bruce Boynton and many others,” she told HuffPost. “And I think what is really important is that even after the victories in the deep south, in terms of electoral mobilization, we still see at the core of where the legislation that has been introduced is aimed at creating more electoral barriers. Suppression of the right to vote. “

Lafayette, who was also Lewis’ former roommate, said it was important for activists today to strategize and be organized. He clapped his hat to the women who led the movement today, noting that more black women need to emerge as leaders. (“You won’t find a better organizer than women,” he said.)

Lafayette said the best way for people to honor the legacies of Lewis, Vivian, Lowery, Boynton and other activists who are no longer alive is by making sure the work done stays in place. He also said that he believes the bridge, which is still named after a Confederate general and the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, should be renamed Lewis, an effort the John Lewis Bridge Project and Other worked towards it.

English remembered the 2020 bridge crossing, which was Lewis’ last crossing. She said they didn’t open the Civil Rights Memorial Center often but made an exception for Lewis and others to walk during that time. She said his words made an indelible mark on her.

“I’ll never forget what he said: ‘It’s so important that we keep showing up because we never know when it will be our last time.'”

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