Selma, Alabama has garnered much attention recently for various reasons. The film combined with the 50th anniversary that commemorated ” Bloody Sunday,” has facilitated the visitation of many visitors including President Barack Obama on Saturday. Sunday March 8th a remarkable moment of solidarity occurred when people from across the country united to renew protest for social justice for many different causes including voter rights restrictions, police brutality, immigration policy, and continued economic injustices throughout the country. It is hard to say what the lasting impact will be of this event. However, given the magnitude of the event it is certainly worth pausing on for reflection. In particular what has shaped my perspective on this monumental event were two conversations that I had with citizens who lived in Alabama during the movement.
Despite my understanding of the significance of this event I did not take very many pictures while in Selma. However, one picture that I did take was of two older ladies with whom I had conversed. Both were active leaders during the Movement years in Selma. They actually insisted that I take a picture not only of them but of their signs as well. Both women held signs that said: ” Justice is blind in Selma- Unfair treatment of citizens in Selma, Alabama by certain persons in high places. We need help in Selma, Alabama.” Before I left after taking the picture she told me to share the pictures with others because after the everyone who came from the rally left they would still be left in Alabama. This made me reflect on two aspects of my visit to Selma. First, I reflected on what it must have been like to have been in Selma fifty years prior. The environments would have obviously been vastly different, tension would have been high and officer may not have been so friendly. However, the spirit of unity between various groups united to stand for a cause remained reminiscent. Although the threat of putting one’s life endanger was gone I still had the sense that important work could be accomplished by the March. However, the two women’s remarks combined with their signs were a very subtle reminder that no work would completely solely through a march.Although it was a great gesture, it would not cause social change by itself. There remains much work to be done. As I left the city I was reminded that I was only a guest there, and that there are actual residents who still face injustice in Selma. Part of this reality is the systemic inequality that many residents still face today. I was reminded that after leaving Selma I need to do whatever it is that I can to help those ladies and what they represent. Even if I do not specifically act on their behalf I was reminded that it is my responsibility as an activist to fight for social changes that is beneficial to all of the “Selmas”, from Ferguson, Missouri to Green Bay, Wisconsin, of the world. Through continually fighting to end injustices I take up the call to “Help Selma.”
The next reflection on my time in Selma is admittedly partially influenced by my time conversing with Civil Rights activist in Jackson, Mississippi as well. While in Selma the first man that I spoke with explained that he was a teenager when the March happened. Nevertheless, he was very much involved in the movement. Infact, he explained that because many teacher who chose to be involved in the movement were fired, schools frequently just dismissed student. The students were subsequently rounded up by officers and held in captivity for a period of time. He somehow managed to avoid this. One of the most interesting stories he told me was about the history of many of the building that were in Selma. According to him many of the businesses in the area that we were in were owned by the Jewish community. The communities frequently employed African Americans at a time when many could not find work in Selma. He describe the cooperative relationship between African Americans and Jews as essential economic vitality of the Selma community. He even explains how during his teenage years he worked for a Jewish families furniture store. This story stressed to me the importance of interracial alliances in the struggle for equality. In Jackson this point was reiterated by freedom ride, Hezekiah Watkins. Watkins described the everyday circumstances during his involvement with the COFO organization (a coalition between SNCC, CORE, SCLC, and the NAACP). He stated that what is often overlooked is the way that would mean white Americans were involved in the Movement. Particularly, he noted how some were directly involved.
Those who were directly involved could potentially face many of the hardships that African Americans faced for their involvement. As a result some decided not to put their life on the line directly. However, this did not mean they were not involved. As an example he pointed to the many instances where white Americans would drive by the headquarters of COFO and leave envelopes of money outside their doors without ever wanting to be identified. This money was crucial towards funding the various initiatives that organizations like COFO hoped to accomplish. There point here though is not to explain the ways in which white Americans were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Rather, it is to use a specific historical example to elucidate the point that the struggle for equality is an interracial struggle. It does not fall on any one specific race or ethnic group. Perhaps another activist has stated this best: “I believe that my freedom is very much entangled with the freedom of every other man and that if another man is not free I am not free.” I believe the same can be said about the struggle for equality today. The need for interracial alliances highlights this point.
Needless to say there were many more lessons that I learned from a visit to Selma, Alabama (For example, TCU’s beating of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl was witnessed by many). Ha ha! Couldn’t help it! However, the two that I will not soon forget are that the struggle for freedom and equality does not end with a march, and the necessary cooperation by many across racial ethnic and even class boundaries to participate.