Remembering Selma

Carla Peay | 3/11/2009, 12:52 a.m.

On a day so violent in the history of the civil rights movement, it became known as €Bloody Sunday,€ state and local police attacked 600 civil rights marchers with tear gas and billy clubs. The day was March 7, 1965, the day the Selma Marches began, and it was a day that helped spark civil rights movements across the country. On the 44th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Black leaders returned to Selma to remember that day.

€Because of what you did, we got the voting rights act in 1965. Because of what you did, Barack Obama is the President of the United States,€ said Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), who marched in Selma that day.

€Today, 44 years later as we march, we remember Rev. Hosea Williams, and Martin Luther King, and countless nameless others who stood in those immovable lines at the courthouse.€

Recollections of those times were passed down from the late Williams, who marched at Selma, to his daughter, Elizabeth Omilami.

€What you€ve been passed on has blood on it. It€s not clean. There was blood on the leaves and Black bodies hanging from trees,€ Omilami said.

Sirius radio host Mark Thompson attended the anniversary commemoration, and reflected on what the moment means for Black Americans.

€Selma is an annual pilgrimage for me, much like Mecca is for Muslims. Bloody Sunday was a Christ event in that blood was shed for America's redemption. This 44th anniversary of Bloody Sunday holds special significance because without Selma, the 44th President would not be an African American,€ Thompson said.

Thompson was praised by Omilami as the type of person her late father€s struggle helped to inspire. Thompson reflected on the anniversary as another €Obama moment.€

€This is the second Obama Moment in our nation's history,€ Thompson said. €The first was immediately after Reconstruction when [a] former slave became Congressman and there were over 2,000 Black elected officials in the South alone. But the backlash against our post-Civil War political gains brought about Jim Crow, the dismantling of Reconstruction and the loss of the franchise. This period is known as the Nadir in American race relations. It took Bloody Sunday 100 years later to restore the franchise.€
Thompson, who hosts the show €Make it Plain€ and is a 20-year veteran of news and political talk radio, is also an activist for the NAACP and a community leader in the District.

€Today, we see the same backlash as we saw during Reconstruction. Whether it's [Sen. John] McCain's [R-Ariz.] campaign rallies, Rush Limbaugh or [New York] Post editorial cartoons, this is history repeating itself. Let's not celebrate Obama so much that we are not prepared to confront the second Nadir,€ Thompson said.

Also present at the Selma anniversary were Attorney General Eric Holder, who renewed the Administration's commitment to the Voting Rights Act, and Peggy Wallace Kennedy, the daughter of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace. Wallace, a four term governor, was best known for his belief in segregation between the races. So passionate about the attempt at desegregation, Wallace stood in front of the Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama to prevent two Black students, James Hood and Vivian Malone, from entering.

€Her [Kennedy€s] decision to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with us was a remarkably healing moment,€ Thompson said.

But while progress has been made, Lewis urged that the fight for equality is far from over.
€To those who have gone on, and are looking down at us, they are saying €keep marching,€€ Lewis said. €Keep hanging in there, keep pushing and keep pulling until we make America what America should be.€