Edmund Pettus crossed to honor Voting Rights heroes

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 8, 2004

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Voting Rights activists took that step 39 years ago when marchers first set out from Brown Chapel AME Church, to walk to Montgomery.

Sunday afternoon, several hundred people gathered at Brown Chapel Church to catch the spirit of the brave ones who faced state troopers and their billy clubs.

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They spoke not only of the past but also of this year’s elections.

Faya Ora Rose Toure, founder of the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute which organizes the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee event, led off with a tribute to three Voting Rights pioneers who had died in the past year &045; Chester Brown, &uot;Mother&uot; Marie Foster and Gloria Gonzalez. In their memory, a horse-drawn wagon led the procession to and over the bridge.

Fred Shuttlesworth, civil rights veteran and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, focused on the events four years ago in Florida and what he called the &uot;stolen&uot; presidential election.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson then took the stand and led the crowd in his oft-heard, &uot;I am somebody. I will vote. My vote will make a difference … The hands that picked cotton will pick a president.&uot;

He thanked Toure, the Hank Sanders family and Shuttlesworth, whom he described as a key leader with Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy in the Montgomery Bus Boycott preceding the events in Selma.

Jackson recounted the voting results beginning with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, noting that the African-American vote was poised to make the difference in every election.

But the fact that so many black Americans continue to be unregistered &045; 8.5 million by his count &045;

the potential is not being realized. Jackson called for a coalition of blacks and the white poor which, could revolutionize America.

He called for the registration of 2 million new African-American voters by election time.

But Sunday was about honoring the past in addition to looking forward to November’s elections.

The Rev. Dr. F.D. Reese, pastor of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church for 38 years and a member of the original &uot;Courageous 8&uot; who spearheaded voting rights activism in Selma, recounted the events of 1965 that led Bloody Sunday.

Reese recalled the mass meeting held at Brown Chapel in defiance of a court injunction.

The house was filled, he said, and there were people outside.