Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Civil Right Tour: Selma

We left Montgomery and drove the 54 miles to Selma, Alabama. Coming into the outskirts of the town I could see that it was a very poor place. We drove past a rundown school, whole blocks of abandoned houses, empty buildings, boarded up stores. And suddenly, right in front of us, was one of the most profound images of the Civil Rights Era: the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
It was startling to see it here today, looking almost exactly as it did in 1965, when hundreds of marchers were beaten while trying to cross the bridge and march to Montgomery to protest for their right to vote.

We parked our van on the other side and then walked back over the bridge on our own.

Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery March happened long before I was born, but I have still been moved by what happened here. I stood under those steel arches and looked out at the Alabama River and cried.
My Dad has often spoken of the profound effect the marchers in 1965 and the images of them being beaten on this very bridge have on him. Watching my dad cross that bridge made me cry some more.
There was a sort of garden area at the foot of the bridge and I climbed down to see it. Here the bridge was less menacing, the terrible parts of its past hidden. Here it was just interesting lines and arches, the lazy roll of the river, crape myrtle trees in full bloom. Here is was just another bridge.

There was a small museum across from the garden. It had displays about the lives of black people in Jim Crow era Selma, the fight for voting rights, Bloody Sunday, and the march to Montgomery.
That morning I had read about the latest acquittal of a police officer who had shot a black man during a traffic stop. He had killed the man, but it wasn't considered murder because his actions were found to be justified. I stood in front of this display for a long time, reflecting that not much has changed in 50 some years.
And once again I was awed by the incredible courage of those who fought for their rights. Even the children braved the angry mobs to march. These are America's greatest heroes.
We wandered around downtown for a bit and found a place to eat lunch. Selma is crumbling, slowly turning back into dust and vines. But you can see how lovely the city must once have been.

Despite the pain and sadness that hung around Selma, I wished that I could have stayed longer. It would have been so interesting to talk to people who live here, to see what their lives are like and to hear their perspectives of what happened in the past. I am grateful that we stopped here.

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