Black History Month officially ended yesterday, but the message it carries is as important today as it was on February 29 (or the 28th, if it hadn’t been for the leap year).
Black History is American History, so it has no one-month limit. And the struggle for equality, unfortunately, is far from over.
I try to get to Selma every first weekend in March for Bloody Sunday commemorations. If you don’t know what Bloody Sunday is, don’t feel bad. Until 6 years ago, I didn’t know either. The annual celebration includes the re-enactment of Selma’s civil rights leaders’ initial trek across the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery on March, 7, 1965.
Thwarted at every attempt to register blacks to vote, these leaders organized more than 500 people intent on marching 51 miles to the state capital. They intended to demand full voting rights and to protest the police shooting death of nonviolent protester Jimmie Lee Jackson.
They never made it. Instead Sheriff Jim Clark, and a wall of state and local police officers on horses and on foot, used billy clubs and tear gas to beat them back across the bridge. Some of the marchers were gravely injured, bloodied and bruised.
The melee was captured by television cameras and splashed across America’s evening newscasts. Again, visual images stirred the world’s conscience and turned national support toward the embattled black citizens’ plight. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a direct result of the Selma movement.
Now, there are two ways to look at Bloody Sunday. Sure, the crowd had no permit to march. As such, the police were within their rights to break up the unauthorized gathering. Law and order must be maintained, after all.
But it really wasn’t about “law and order,” per se. Those in power who wanted to stay in power used the law and order mantra as a thin veil over naked bigotry and racism. The fact is, the constitution had guaranteed blacks the right to vote. But forces hell-bent on maintaining white supremacy created another set of laws that robbed blacks of that right for 100 years.
After several aborted attempts (and another death), the marchers set out again for Montgomery on March 22, this time with court-ordered permission and under the protection of federal guards. The crowd that crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge this time numbered more than 8,000, including locals and people of many hues and ethnicities from across the country, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Five days later, they made their demands known at the state capital. Gov. George Wallace ignored them.
This year’s Bloody Sunday commemoration will be a full march from Selma to Montgomery. Part of its purpose is to protest Alabama’s now infamous immigration law – dubbed HB 56. The parallels between what happened 47 years ago and what’s going on now are rather striking.
Yes, illegal immigration is, well, illegal. Law and order must be maintained to secure our nation’s borders. Got it.
But we have to honestly ask ourselves, what thin veil is HB56 really covering? Is there moral strength in what lies beneath it? Is it backlash against the so-called “browning of America” and its implications? Is it about protecting American jobs from low-wage competition, or protecting job-creators who’ve turned a blind eye to immigration status so they can pimp cheap laborers? Is it about people in power who are hell-bent on keeping their power?
Pulling back the veil can be awfully painful and embarrassing if what lies underneath it is not morally admirable. But if Black History Month has taught us anything, it is that “minorities” have forced America to live up to the Founding Fathers’ ideals. When they signed their names to the document with the famous words – about all men being created equal and having the innate right to life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness – they did not include those African slaves who worked on their plantations. So when people say they want the country to go back to the “original intent” of the Founding Fathers, what do they really mean?
Whatever the intent may have been, it has been the extraordinary work of African Americans and their supporters who made sure the American ideals applied equally to every citizen of this country. And for that, all Americans should celebrate, every month of the year.
So head to Selma, if you can, to take part in the continuing history that makes this country great.
Civil Rights Radio, and The 4-1-1
Or you can take the short drive over to St. John Missionary Baptist Church in southwest Birmingham to take part in the updated version of the Civil Rights Movement’s Monday night mass meetings.
The 4-1-1 Meeting is the brainchild of Lady BJ Love King, the founder and host of the new radio show, From the Mountain 2 The Valley Civil Rights Radio Broadcast. As a child of the Movement, Lady BJ vividly remembers the training in nonviolent protest and learning about the power of the vote. She sat at the feet of civil rights pioneers like Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Dorothy Cotton, Andrew Young and Rev. James Bevel, as well as Dr. King himself on occasion. She and her compatriots in the ‘60s took the blows and mistreatment so we could enjoy the America we know today.
But it seems their work is coming undone around the edges, only a generation or two later. We MUST remember what it took to get us here, and what’s at stake if we lose the hard-fought rights they won for us all.
So this first 4-1-1-Meeting on Monday, March 5, is a salute to the past and a clarion call to the next generation to continue the work started well over 50 years ago. This meeting’s focus is on encouraging people to use their right to vote in this year’s presidential elections, or any election.
Jefferson County Circuit Clerk Anne-Marie Adams is among the speakers at the meeting. She is particularly concerned that people get to the polls on March 13 to vote in the Alabama primaries. They are usually held in June, and she worries people may forget about this important election day. See below for meeting details.
Hope to see you soon!
Mountain 2 the Valley Civil Rights Radio Broadcast Presents
The 4-1-1 Monday Night Meeting
Topic: Voting Rights in 2012
March 5, 2012
6 P.M. – 8 P.M.
Greater Saint John Missionary Baptist Church (one of the historic churches of the Civil Rights Movement)
2401 Carlos Avenue S.W., Birmingham, AL, 35211
For more information, contact radio show host Lady BJ Love King at 205-929-6636.