by Lynn Jones
On the heels of Civil Rights activist, the Jacksonville Free Press was on the front line for the 50th Anniversary of the Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the Selma-to-Montgomery March, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Thousands packed the riverside town for commemorations of the march of March 7, 1965, in what became the first of three aiming to reach Montgomery, Alabama, to demand an end to discrimination against black voters and victims of segregation. Scenes of troopers beating marchers on the bridge shocked the nation, emboldening leaders in Washington to pass the Voting Rights Act five months later.
The Selma 50th Jubilee celebration weekend consisted of a step show, a celebrity gala, panel discussions, museum tours and an back in the day old school party.
On Saturday, traffic was backed up miles away from Downtown Selma as many of the travelers were energized to hear President Barack Obama speak to the crowd. President Obama gave a rousing speech to Selma’s residents as he noted, “Selma is such a place. In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history — the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher — all that history met on this bridge.” Also on the dais with President Obama was First lady Michele Obama and former president George Bush and wife Laura Bush.
The highlight of the 50th Jubilee was the crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As the travelers crossed the bridge it was evident that civil rights leaders did not return to Selma to make an investment for Selma’s future residents. The economic ills that plague African Americans across America has effected Selma’s growth and development. Many of the homes are boarded up, while unemployment is double the national average.
Selma’s 50th Jubilee was historic as it has taught African Americans that we can overcome, yet we struggle to face the truth about our history and legacy. President Obama continued his speech, “Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person. Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” “We The People.” “We Shall Overcome.” “Yes We Can.” That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone.” he said.
The shadow of enduring discrimination touched the event as Obama addressed his government’s investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department. The investigation, he said, “evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the civil rights movement. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom. And before the civil rights movement, it most surely was.”