Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Report from Selma

As most of our readers know, our current trip in Lilypad is our second motor home trip. The first was In Lulu in 2003 and the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee (celebrating the 35th anniversary of  "Bloody Sunday") was the highlight of that trip, creating great memories and stories to tell and retell. This led us to wonder if our expectations might be too high when we returned this year for another Bridge Crossing Jubilee (now celebrating the 49th anniversary.)  But we were not disappointed.  In fact, we now hope to come back to celebrate the 50th anniversary next year, but wait, we are a little ahead of ourselves here.
Crossing the Bridge!

When we dropped by the Chamber of Commerce in 2003, we experienced stony silence after announcing we had come to attend the Jubilee. “We don’t like to think about those troubles,” we were told by the white staff person. This year when we stopped to pick up a city map, the young white Tourism Director invited us to attend the welcoming reception for the Jubilee, hosted by the City of Selma, where she was thanked and introduced along with the Mayor and other local dignitaries. Selma is Alabama's 29th largest city and 80% of the 20,000 folks that live there are of African-American descent. Throughout the next four days we were impressed with the theme of diversity and acceptance as we were welcomed warmly wherever we went. 

Following the reception, our first event was a student play about Jimmy Lee Jackson, a young black man who was killed in nearby Marion, Alabama in 1965. It was his death that helped lead to the original bridge crossing, so if you don’t know this story, check it out and put it into your brain filed under “important history that everyone should know.”  After the play we followed the crowd to the historic Tabernacle Baptist Church for a mass rally of songs and speeches. The featured speaker was Reverend William Barber from Raleigh, North Carolina, the President of the North Carolina NAACP, who is a leader in a new coalition of progressive students and old-timers in a series of rallies called Moral Mondays. One oft-repeated theme is the need for diversity and unity in the fight for social justice, and we felt welcomed and included by his words. Reverend Barber and others left Selma the day after the Jubilee for a bus trip to visit Southern capitals culminating with a rally in front of the Supreme Court Washington DC to demonstrate on the issue of the Voting Rights Act which was gutted by the Supreme Court last year.  These folks in Selma strongly disagreed with the opinion of the Supreme Court that racism in the south is a thing of the past and government intervention is no longer needed.
On Friday we enjoyed several movies at the Jubilee Film Festival. Two films we especially liked: Soul Food Junkies about the rise of urban farming and healthy food choices; and American Promise, about two black families that chose to send their sons to a private school, and documented it on film throughout their 12 years in school. That evening we packed into the Dallas County Courthouse to hear a mock trial of the family of Jimmy Lee Jackson suing George Wallace and the State of Alabama as culpable in his having been killed by an Alabama State Trooper. Local colorful activist, attorney and Jublilee organizer Rose Sanders (aka Faya Rose Toure) was hilarious in her defense of Governor  Wallace. Of course the jury, selected from the audience, found in favor of the plaintiff.
Union organizers in the Selma Jubilee Parade
Early on Saturday we lined up to watch the Jubilee Parade which featured marching bands, historic cars, local politicians, and many children’s groups. From there we walked through the Jubilee street fair and bought lunch before going back to watch a couple of HIV-AIDs films and an excellent documentary about Mumia Ab-Jamal, a revolutionary writer serving an unjust life term in prison.  We were very moved by the film and have put his books on our “must-read” list.
Sunday was all about the March re-enactment and started with a service and rally at the historic Brown Chapel  AME Church. Reverend Jesse Jackson was one of the first to show up, greeting folks and waving to the crowd, followed by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, local hero Representative John Lewis and a host of Secret Service. Many groups were present including Free-Don.org, a group organized to free the former governor of Alabama who has been wrongfully imprisoned….another interesting story we just learned here in Selma. The prayers, speeches and singing went on for three hours and then everyone poured into the streets for the re-enactment of the march over the bridge.
Lots of issues - lots of work to be done for a better world
We were downtown by then in a huge crowd of ordinary folks: students from the University of Michigan on “alternative break”, the Black Masons, the Alabama Coalition for Immigration Reform, local families and farmers, old-timers and many people in strollers, happily marching together over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. That evening, we concluded the four day event by attending a community dinner and dramatic presentation featuring Ayana Gregory, daughter of Dick Gregory. This is an inspiring production we strongly recommend, which communicates many aspects of female self-esteem, identity, and the significance of the civil rights struggle for all youth of today. Local communities can now book this amazing one-woman show (check out her website.

We came away from the weekend physically exhausted and spiritually rejuvenated. The Jubilee today is now an annual educational and strategic moment when civil rights leaders and ordinary people gather to reflect on the significance of those events, analyze progress since those days, and attempt to create a vision of what lies ahead and what work needs to be done. It was also inspiring to see that the road from Selma to Montgomery has received National Scenic Byway designation and funding for three interpretive centers. One seldom finds an opportunity to learn so much. We do want to come back next year. We would love to have friends (yes you) come with us.

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