I had a most moving and educational visit yesterday to the National Park Service’s Interpretive Center in Selma, Alabama, located right at the base of the Edmund Pettis Bridge. You may remember those events from 1965, or you may be familiar with the movie “Selma”, but however you know about this part of our history, I hope you realize how important the events happening here were.
I found myself ashamed because I have to admit I don’t remember anything about these events when they were happening. I was a Senior in High School, and my thoughts were occupied with boys, graduating high school, and what might happen next in my life. I lived in a very small town in northern Indiana, and had no exposure to anyone of a different race, but that’s a weak excuse for such ignorance of such important events.
I did watch “Selma” when it came out, and by then I did have a sense of the racism in our country, and the way too many people of color had suffered and continue to suffer. I’ve lived in the deep South for 13 years now, and continue to learn about the ongoing racism in this country and the many ways it hurts all of us, but especially the African-Americans who call the USA home.
I have nothing but the greatest admiration for those willing to challenge the institutional racism that existed in our country. Their courage is unbelievable as they put their very lives on the line simply because they wanted to vote. They had the right to vote, but unfair laws kept them from the polling booth. Ever since the Civil War ended by freeing the slaves in 1865 the whites in power found ways to limit the freedoms of our black citizens. They were no longer slaves, but they were not yet free.
The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s began to change all that. It was a hard battle – and it was indeed a battle – each and every freedom had to be fought for, and the costs to the blacks were high. Many were beaten, denied jobs and places to live, and many lost their lives. Selma was a turning point in all of that, as national attention became focused on what was happening there.