Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Officials, participants commemorate ‘Bloody Sunday’


SELMA — George Smith has seen every March 7 since Bloody Sunday in 1965, when Alabama State Troopers attacked a peaceful march led by civil rights leaders on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge.

One Sunday, Smith’s 94th March 7 was the first he spent in Selma to commemorate the critical event of the Civil Rights Movement.

“I felt good, felt good about the civil rights movement,” said Smith, who mentioned that he lived in Selma some time ago. “I knew quite a few people involved,” he adds.

Smith’s daughter wasn’t the only member of his family in attendance. In fact, four generations had come to watch and join the commemorative march across the bridge over the Alabama River, Smith’s grandson Tim Paries said.

Smith’s family, and hundreds of others, seemed keenly interested and hopefully excited for the event. All along Selma’s Water Street, which runs parallel to the river, vendors sold shirts, CDs, hats, jewelry and all manners of marketable fried foods to the crowds throughout the afternoon. The abundance of lively discourse was a testament to the aura of excitement and pride early in the afternoon.

The star power of the event only seemed to amplify that excitement and pride. Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement in attendance included U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who ran the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and the Rev. C.T. Vivian, supposedly considered by Martin Luther King, Jr. as one of the nation’s greatest preachers.

Morning on the Bridge

Around 9:30 a.m., hours before crowds filled Water Street, Lewis and a contingent of other U.S. Congressmen — four House Democrats and two House Republicans — took buses onto the bridge for a photo opportunity. Several busloads of people accompanied them, and immediately prior to the photo, formed a small crowd around Lewis.

“45 years ago, on this day,” Lewis said, “were six hundred of us, walking not in the streets but on the sidewalks…in twos, orderly.”

“When we got to this point…no one was saying a word,” he said. “So quiet, so peaceful. When we got to the highest point, we could see, a little further down, the sea of blue—the Alabama State Troopers. The rest…is really history.”

“What came to be known as Bloody Sunday changed America forever,” Lewis said.

Actor Terrence Howard, among the crowd, reflected on Lewis’ words.

“For me, this event represents what’s taking place throughout the world. It’s nice that we can all come back under peaceful circumstances,” he said. “It’s multicultural…the police here now are here to protect everyone on this bridge, not to attack everyone on this bridge.”

Lewis’ remarks also touched his fellow congressmen — even those of different caucuses.

“I represent an African American district,” Republican Rep. Joseph Cao said. “And this is an important occasion for me, personally, and for my family…I am a beneficiary of the Civil Rights Movement, because I don’t think I would have had a chance to be a U.S. Congressman [without it].”

Cao represents Louisiana’s 2nd District, which includes New Orleans.

“I think it’s like a revival,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. “It’s a reaffirmation of why I’m in this business. We owe so many people we’ll never know.”

Service in Brown Chapel

After the photo shoot, the congressional delegation and accompanying crowd traveled to Brown Chapel, a historic location for the Civil Rights Movement. There, Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and the Rev. C.T. Vivian joined the group for an 11 a.m. service.

During the service, Davis took the pulpit with a document he received from President Barack Obama. Davis said the president’s office requested that he read an excerpt from the statement.

“Today we stand on the shoulders of all of the Moses generation,” Davis read, “those who made the Voting Rights Act possible. That made the Civil Rights Act possible. Yet with all the progress that has been made since that terrible day in Selma, there is still work to be done—by us, the Joshua generation.”

The service moved into Reverend C. T. Vivian’s sermon. Vivian preached that the Civil Rights Movement manifested a new “spiritual understanding,” elevating his close friend Martin Luther King, Jr. as nothing less than a prophet.

Vivian elicited an ovation with his closing statements. “After all the suffering we’ve been through,” he said excitedly, “we still have joy. Man didn’t give it to us—baby, we worked for it.”

After the service, 15-year-old Eric Willis from Columbus, Georgia reflected on the sermon. “The way he spoke made you think that the way the act nowadays is like, screwing up what they did,” he said. We need to act differently…we need to change it for the better.”

The March

The commemorative march itself began in front of Brown Chapel, approximately half an hour after the service. The members of Congress, civil rights movement heroes and the crowd from the photo shoot on the bridge all met a larger crowd outside to begin the 45-minute walk to the bridge.

Down the street, members of Freedom Foundation, an organization based in Selma, awaited the marchers for their turn to join in. The Freedom Foundation contingent spanned several races, and consisted of men, women, and a large number of children in matching shirts and bandannas carrying picket signs.

“Our goal here today is to show that there is change here in Selma,” said Shawn Samuelson, director of the organization. “One thing that we do is go to public events and show unity and diversity. Of course, we’d like to have John Lewis see us, because this represents what he fought for. And the other foot soldiers, that actually marched over that bridge on Bloody Sunday, this is what they were hoping would be accomplished,” she said.

As the marchers reached the corner and turned on to Broadway, the Freedom Foundation contingent stepped into the streets singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Moments later, further down the street at the base of the bridge, George Smith’s family prepared to join the march. “Oh, look, there he is, right there,” Tim Paries said with audible excitement, pointing as the Rev. Jesse Jackson passed three feet in front of him.

Paries hurriedly stepped back to help his mother wheel his grandfather, George Smith, into the street. Smith smiled contently as he joined, for the first time in his 94 years, the large, singing multitude headed across the Alabama River.

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