Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Remembering Bloody Sunday

By Dianne Mathiowetz
Selma, Ala.
Published Mar 13, 2011 10:50 PM

March 9, 1965.

The grainy black-and-white images are horrifyingly familiar — a column of Civil Rights marchers, numbering about 600, many dressed in their Sunday best, faces so young, expressions so intent and serious, walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., stopping before a wall of riot-geared state troopers. Then a rush by the baton-wielding men in blue uniforms, muscling their way into the waiting women and men who slowly retreat, turn to run, fall and are trampled by the crowd and the horses of the mounted police. Then the sounds of clubs hitting flesh and bone, people screaming, bodies hitting the pavement; the sight of blood flowing, tear gas clouds obscuring the bodies, the injured being hurried away.

These scenes from the March 7, 1965, march, better known as “Bloody Sunday,” have become a standard television clip, a kind of media shorthand whenever the Civil Rights Movement is referenced. What this portrayal of the struggle for voting rights in a sound bite does, maybe deliberately, is to distort the years of efforts by the Black population of Selma and the nearby counties to register to vote. It ignores the heroic work of young volunteers with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, starting in 1963, who faced death by racist elements like the Ku Klux Klan for helping to prepare these disenfranchised people to take Jim-Crow-required literacy tests.

It hides the firebombed houses, the loss of jobs, the beatings, the evictions and the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, shot Feb. 18, 1965, in nearby Marion, Ala. The 26-year-old Jackson was with his mother and grandfather during a peaceful march to protest the arrest of Rev. James Orange, an organizer with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The march was attacked by an array of police agencies including Alabama State troopers. It was only this past November that the Alabama State trooper who killed Jackson pleaded guilty to this crime. James Bonard Fowler was sentenced to six months in the Perry County jail.

The death of Jackson at the hands of an Alabama State trooper was the immediate reason for the decision to march from Selma to the state capitol of Montgomery on March 7, 1965. Some had wanted to carry his body on the 50-mile trek to make it plain to arch-segregationist and then Gov. George Wallace that nothing was going to turn them around. The march to the state capitol finally happened on March 9, 1965. A commemorative march took place this March 6 on the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Every year since, these momentous acts of courage and determination are commemorated in Selma with a re-enactment of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Many accompanying events serve to educate and motivate, such as programs featuring the leaders and foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement whose lives of activism reflect the ebbs and flows, gains and losses of the struggle for equality and liberation. It is their stories that add dimension and truth to the grainy black-and-white images the corporate media show on Bloody Sunday.
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