Susan Burton, recognized in the Los Angeles Times as one of the nation’s prominent civil rights leaders today, will stand in solidarity with other advocates and movement builders on the 50th anniversary of the historic March in Selma.
It was on Sunday, March 7, 1965 when nearly 600 people started a planned march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a well-planned and peaceful demonstration that resulted in what is known as “Bloody Sunday.”
It had been one-hundred years since the end of the Civil War, and many African Americans were still facing barriers to vote. In Selma, African Americans made up almost half the population, but only two percent had managed to successfully register as voters. Discrimination and intimidation tactics blocked nearly every attempt to register and vote, and the march on the bridge was a courageous journey toward such a fundamental right.
John Lewis was a key organizer of the march. The 25-year-old son of an Alabama sharecropper was the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization dedicated to ending segregation and to registering black voters. The movement practiced non-violence. Lewis and other leaders asked the demonstrators not to fight back against anyone who committed violence against them during the peaceful protest. The marchers paused for a moment, then kept walking. The sheriff warned the people that they had two minutes to break up the march, but the deputies attacked sooner. The demonstrators were tear-gassed, clubbed, spat on, whipped and trampled by horses. Television and newspapers carried pictures of the event that became known as “Bloody Sunday,” and a disgraced and horrified nation witnessed the shame.Fifty years later substantial barriers still exist, only now they are instituted in the age of mass incarceration. This weekend we stand with Susan Burton and all freedom seekers, truth-tellers and reform heroes to keep the march for justice alive. Until we are all free, none of us are free.