Walking through history

Published 11:03 pm Saturday, January 17, 2009

For 23 years, Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Sylacauga has led a youth retreat to cities of significance to the Civil Rights Movement.

The venues included places like Memphis, Tenn., Atlanta and Montgomery — everywhere but Selma.

Given the link between President-elect Barack Obama’s historic election and events more than 40 years ago, this was as good a time as any.

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A group of 75 people from two Sylacauga churches visited Selma on Saturday to learn more about the city that contributed to the fight for equal rights for black Americans.

Just before crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge and visiting Brown Chapel A.M.E. and other sites, members of the group reflected on the trip.

“I think history-wise it’s very important, especially for the kids,” said Zephorah Wychoff, a member of Harper Springs Baptist Church. “My kids are young. They’re 8 and 10, so they don’t know that much about the history because they’re not teaching it in schools. The lady that gave the speech on ‘Turnaround Tuesday,’ I really enjoyed hers because that is history. A lot of us have forgotten about that or didn’t know about it, especially the kids.”

Selma City Councilwoman Angela Benjamin reminded the crowd gathered for lunch at Lannie’s Restaurant that the Selma to Montgomery March was more than just “Bloody Sunday.” The second of three marches occurred the following Tuesday when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led a procession to the site where the confrontation with police happened days before. King and the marchers knelt and prayed before obeying a federal court order by turning around.

“That prayer was powerful,” Benjamin said.

The Rev. Manuell Smith III, pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church, grew up in Birmingham and recalls events like the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church.

Smith was part of a group of pastors that called for a boycott of the Sylacauga school system because only 14 of the more than 160 teachers were black. Black students make up more than 38 percent of the total enrollment.

“We came this year because of what happened in the election with the new president,” Smith said. “Obama traced some of that history that allowed him to be where he is.”

Said 16-year-old Laemaxtro Hall,” I’m looking forward to when we march over the bridge.”

The trip was more than a sightseeing tour, however. It was a chance for the students to wrap themselves in history, and possibly become part of it.

“I’d like for them to be non-violent,” said Dr. Cecil Williamson, a city councilman. “Non-violence accomplishes more than violence. If there’s one thing that came out of the Civil Rights Movement, it is that.”