On March 7, 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King and the Reverend Ralph Abernathy (both deceased), a young John Lewis, now a Democratic Congressman, a young Andrew Young (now a former Ambassador), and 600 other Freedom Fighters crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, I was a young Army wife and mother living about 130 miles East from what is still a troubled city.
There were several organizations participating in this march, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This march was planned to go from Selma to Montgomery to fight for voting and human rights.
But they were met with hatred and violence by the white Alabama police ordered by Democratic Governor George Wallace. It was one of the most important days in the Civil Rights Movement – named “Bloody Sunday” because as this group of non-violent American citizens, both black and white, marched for the right of blacks to be treated fairly, they were beaten and tear-gassed within inches of their lives and Dr. King and a few others were thrown in jail.
Bloody, but unbowed, they later continued their march to the state capitol of Montgomery. These beatings were broadcast around the world and people were horrified. So much so that finally the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed by Congress and signed by then President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 9, 1965.
50 years later – this past weekend, an estimated 40,000 people (according to the Washington Post), black and white, young and old, Democrats and Republicans – marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in commemoration of the event that changed the course of history.
But one wonders how many of those younger marchers really understood the seriousness of the history they were commemorating. They marched for immigration, gay marriage, the recent police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri and other issues.
While many think we have made significant progress, others believe we haven’t come far enough.
I tend to believe that we have made more progress than most believe. I refuse to believe that we are still victims of a racist system that “keeps us down” with “the man’s foot on our necks.”
The laws that made it illegal for us to vote, to sit in the front of the bus, to sit on lunch counters with whites, to use public bathrooms with whites, to drink from the same water fountains, to go to school with whites, etc., were all struck down.
We sit in the boardrooms, running multimillion dollar corporations. We operate at the top levels of governments across the country. There are over 10,000 black elected officials.
My own step-mother was one of the first black members of the city council and then mayor of a small Alabama city where I was born. It was the same city where the sheriff arrested my mother for not saying “Yes, Ma’am” to a white salesclerk younger than her.
When you look in the presidential cabinet of Bush 43, (Republican President George W.), you see two Blacks – Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza “Condi” Rice, later named the 2nd female Secretary of State.
Also every Secretary or Under Secretary of every major federal agency under Bush was black. Under President William “Bill” Clinton, the Secretary of Labor was a black woman.
Also, Republican President Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush marched on “Bloody Sunday” along with the first black President, Democrat Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
So the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma should have been a celebration of the successes enjoyed by those who were part of the Civil Rights Movement and those generations which followed.
So those who want to play the race card and the perennial victim should stop singing “We Shall Overcome” and do as other groups who have suffered at the hands of others: get over it, move on, work through the fog and enjoy the opportunities that this great country has to offer.
Racism will never be dead. Evil will never be dead. But as a Christian, I choose to believe that God gives us the wherewithal to overcome racism and evil.
For the record, we have overcome. So we should relish our victory and help others to see the glass as half full instead of half-empty. The people who suffered at the hands of some really racist cops deserve it.
Barbara Howard is a political consultant, radio host and commentator and motivational speaker. She is Florida State chairwoman for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Trade & Travel goodwill ambassador to Kenya. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.