Manassas Journal Messenger | Keeping the Dream Alive

SELMA, Ala. – If Bloody Sunday was the spark that ignited the Civil Rights movement in America, then the 40th anniversary commemoration of that day was an opportunity to stick another log on the fire, according to many prominent African-American leaders.

Thousands of marchers gathered at Selma’s Brown Chapel A.M.E. church Sunday afternoon and headed to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, tracing the steps of several hundred marchers who were confronted in 1965 by Alabama State Troopers and Dallas County Sheriff’s deputies who beat many of the marchers with batons and cattle prods and sprayed many others with tear gas.

The images of the beatings were transmitted around the country.

Two weeks later, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many of the same marchers, and several thousand more, entered Montgomery.

Two months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

U.S. Rep John Lewis, D-Ga., was on the bridge in 1965. One of the most famous photographs of Bloody Sunday is a picture of Lewis in the midst of being struck by a policeman’s baton. The blow gave him a concussion.

“We left this church 40 years ago, walking in twos down the street. We were orderly, peaceful,” said Lewis, speaking from the steps of Brown Chapel. “When we got to the bridge, we were confronted. I thought I was going to die, but God was not through with me.”

Many leaders and elected officials said the march’s commemoration should prompt residents to become more active politically.

“I don’t want you to be involved in just ceremony,” U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said as thousands filling the street outside the chapel cheered. “I want you to do something.”

Waters also called on President George W. Bush to sign the Voting Rights Act extension this year instead of waiting until 2007, when it is due for renewal.

Several leaders tied Sunday’s commemoration to congressional action, calling for marchers to urge their congressmen and congresswomen to vote against cuts to community development block grants, low-income housing, college aid and other programs.

Several marchers held signs challenging the congressmen in attendance.

“Don’t march with us today and vote to cut (programs) tomorrow,” several signs read.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the need for activism in the black community has never been greater.

“We are the most threatened we have been in a half century,” Jackson told the marchers outside the chapel. “We have a hostile White House, House (of Representatives) and Senate.”

Jackson led the throng of marchers up Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, over to Alabama Avenue and on to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Marchers held signs, sang songs and carried banners.

Thousands who did not participate in the march stood on the sides of the street and watched, some singing along with the marchers, others simply watching.

Scores of television and newspaper photographers ran in front of the marchers, recording the moment as the marchers came to the top of the bridge and prayed.

“Our freedom was purchased by the precious blood of martyrs,” said Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. King. “This was one of the greatest non-violent demonstrations in history.”

King then encouraged the marchers to vote.

“The ballot is the key to meaningful employment, income and dozens of issues that enhance our quality of life,” she said.

Lance Griffin can be reached at [email protected] or 712-7962.


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