Anyone paying attention this spring knows that 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Those who watch the evening news have been able to view footage of the original marchers brutally assaulted on “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, juxtaposed with present day marchers celebrating the progress we have made in the intervening fifty years.
We Americans understand how initial heroism in the struggle for liberty can serve as examples that inspire us ultimately to victory. The start of the Texas Revolution occurred in 1836 at a small adobe church in San Antonio, where settlers from the United States stood their ground against the overwhelming force of the Mexican army. Through their courage against all odds, they inspired thousands of other settlers to join their fight for independence and ultimately for statehood. The Civil Rights Struggle of fifty years ago was like that. An outsider’s view of those struggling for liberty was that they were overwhelmed by ugly, brute force and were defeated at the scene. Not so the view of those heroes who actually participated. As Texans did indeed “Remember the Alamo,” the brutality at the Edmund Pettus Bridge provided broad visibility for the cause of liberty, which in turn inspired more to join and those opposing liberty eventually to themselves be defeated. In the end, the righteous cause prevailed.
Each struggle continued for another ten years. Following the gains for liberty started at the Alamo, our nation added the Southwest from Texas to California. Following the march across Edmund Pettus Bridge, our nation confirmed newly won liberties with the Voting Rights Act coupled with strong enforcement by the federal Justice Department. It took both the courage of the Alamo and the courage of the Edmund Pettus Bridge to enable those who followed to “crown the good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.” But here the metaphor begins to break down. We never lost any of the hard-fought gains that we began to win, following the Alamo. But we now have lost some of those hard-fought gains we began to win, following the march across Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Only those with intentional blinders on will think that the civil rights struggle is over, especially here in the South. Our society was more divided into rich and poor, white and black, fifty years ago than it is now – but divided we still are. The voting rights that rapidly extended to all of our citizens soon after Selma are now slowly being taken back, with Voter ID laws touting the statistically false claim of “ensuring against voting fraud” resulting in the statistically valid reduction in voter turnout particularly by minorities, the poor, and the elderly. There was a recent Supreme Court decision that ruled the Voting Rights Act could no longer focus on the South, where the Civil Rights Struggle needed to focus fifty years ago, ostensibly because that battle has been won. But common observation shows us that here in the South, the struggle continues. For the cause of liberty, it must prevail.
We as a nation still “Remember the Alamo.” Now, we must also “Remember the Edmund Pettus Bridge.” It will take all of us working together, here in Edgefield County and throughout the South, truly to “crown the good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.” We are not there yet. How will our children and their children commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Selma, fifty years from now? The answer depends on our actions today. Together, we need to continue our march across that bridge. Together, indeed, we shall overcome.