Monday, March 07, 2005

Have times changed all that much?

Forty years ago today, Dr. King attempted to walk from Selma to Montgomery. It was Bloody Sunday, and he was rebuffed at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It is hallowed ground.
Selma has a unique place in civil rights history. After state troopers brutally attacked protestors on March 7, 1965, the day known now as Bloody Sunday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. invited the nation to join the black people of Alabama in protesting to get the right to vote. Blacks and whites from across the country came here by the thousands to march again from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital.

On March 25, they assembled there to announce to Gov. George Wallace and the nation that they would not cede their voting rights. Their courageous efforts, along with the cruel murder of white civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo just east of Selma by members of the Ku Klux Klan, influenced Congress to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
My father was one of the many who responded to Dr. King's call. A priest in rural New Jersey, family lore has it that he had to borrow money from his parents in order to make the trip to Alabama to participate in the second march. He made the march and was on hand at the Alabama state Captitol to hear Dr. King. He was but one of 25,000 on hand that day.
Historians, civil rights leaders and former presidents believe the march and Bloody Sunday, in which 17 people were hospitalized after they were beaten by state troopers and local law enforcement officers, galva nized national support for voting rights for all Americans.

"Though we were traumatized by the horror at the hands of the state and its extralegal apparatus, the posses and vigilantes, we never doubted that the right to vote, one person one vote, would become a reality in the state of Alabama," said Gwen Patton, who helped with the 1965 march and is an organizer of anniversary events in Montgomery. "And when that happened, it was a joyous day."

The televised broadcast of the march brought national attention to the mistreatment of blacks and the need for equal voting rights.

The first attempt, March 7, 1965, failed as the state troopers beat back marchers as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

With the protection of a federal court order, about 3,200 people set out from Selma on March 21. The march ended March 25 at the steps of the state Capitol. The number of marchers swelled as they neared the Capitol. (More than 25,000 people heard Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. make his address.)
So, what's changed? Or, what hasn't?

We've come a long way, but we have a long way to go. Today, we're a country that (hopefully) doesn't beat people who are exercising their First Ammendment rights. But, we're also a country that has plenty of folks who still hate and still espouse hatred. Today, when I told folks the neo-Nazis and the Klan were going to rally in Yorktown, I was met with disbelief... by almost everyone. See the neo-Nazis press release. They're there. They're out there. They're right next to you.

What can we do? Well, I think Dr. King had it right: March. Rally. Be positive. Be for something (not against). Speak with peace. Greet hatred with non-violence.

Be like the young priest who bummed money from his parents and left his wife and two small sons at home and flew south in order to walk, to take a stand, to be a part of something greater than himself. Join us for the Valley Forge Rally for Social Justice.

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