Roughly 50 bruising miles divide Montgomery from Selma, Alabama in the recondite south. On Sunday, March 7, 1967, several hundred civil rights activists motivated by John Lewis attempted to march harmoniously to Montgomery on what would become known as bloody Sunday.
The struggles and victories that took place in Alabama during the 1950s and 1960s roused an entire nation to the truth of racial injustice and hatred that affected African-Americans all over the United States.
Our journey from Atlanta, Georgia, was at least four hours and I watched as the flourishing trees hurried by the car window. At some sections on the trip, we whisked by white cotton bulbs on laden trees. Our initial station in Alabama would be in Montgomery, which was known pre-civil-war as the cradle of the confederacy.
Alabama had performed a pivotal part in establishing the Confederate States of America, in response to Abraham Lincoln’s election the preceding fall. After seceding from the Union, Alabama leaders promptly invited other seceding states to assemble in Montgomery in order to establish a different government.
Our first stop in Montgomery was the Legacy Museum which doesn’t permit photography inside. The museum recounts the narrative “of how slavery evolved through the eras of racial terror lynchings, legalized racial segregation, and mass incarceration.” Even though I traversed the exhibits from the ending to the start the communication of the predicament of African-Americans through slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights era were well documented using technology to tell the story from their perspective.
If we have the courage and tenancity of our forebearers, who stood firmly like a rock against the lash of slavery, we shall find a way to do for our day what they did for theirs. - Mary McLeod Bethune
After working up an appetite at the Legacy Museum, it was a quick pit stop at Pannie-George’s Restaurant at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is “dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African-Americans humiliated by racial segregation, and people of colour burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.” The next stop was the Lynching Memorial.
The moment you deposited your foot on the grounds of the Lynching Museum you are rapidly pierced by the savageness remitted on black bodies throughout subjugation and Jim Crow eras. During Jim Crow, more than “4,000 African American men, women, and children who were lynched between 1877 and 1950.”
On the property, there are 800 suspended steel monuments, one for every county in the United States where documented racial terror lynchings were practised.
In my home county of Anne Arundel County Maryland, near scenic Annapolis Maryland along the Magothy River George Briscoe was lynched November 26, 1884. George was lynched before any trial could take place for the alleged robbery he committed. History indicates that George was hung by proletariat justice and local law enforcement of the day was “participatory (through action or inaction)“.
After leaving the National Memorial for Peace and Justice it was a short drive from Montgomery to Selma.
The drive-by car was relaxed and the blacktop rushed by beneath the wheels. I started to image if the velocity under the soles of the civil rights marchers feet were as easy. Our next stop in Selma was the Edmund Pettus Bridge the scene of the atrocities on bloody Sunday.
The bridge traverses the Alabama River and is now a National Historic Landmark, it was the locality of the unmerciful Bloody Sunday floggings of civil rights marchers during the initial march for voting rights. The televised aggression was seen all over the nation, arousing public support for the civil rights activists in Selma and for the voting rights crusade. After Bloody Sunday, protestors were awarded the right to resume marching, and two more marches for voting rights followed.
Upon the death of John Lewis in 2020, there has been a petition to rename the bridge. If you are interested in signing the petition to rename the bridge after John Lewis it can be found here.
Standing on the bridge I could sense the zeitgeist and the historical significance of this consecrated location. We shall overcome.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.Invictus by William Ernest Henley