Tabernacle program honors martyrs

Published 10:42 pm Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Rev. Dion Culliver, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, speaks Thursday at his church during a ceremony that honored civil rights martyrs.

The Rev. Dion Culliver, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, speaks Thursday at his church during a ceremony that honored civil rights martyrs.

By Blake Deshazo

The Selma Times-Journal 

More than 50 years after Tabernacle Baptist Church played host to the first mass meeting on equal voting rights in Selma, it helped get the 50th anniversary celebration started Thursday night with a memorial service for the martyrs of the march and, appropriately, another mass meeting.

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Hundreds of people sat in the presence of civil rights activists like the Rev. F.D. Reese, Amelia Boynton-Robinson and Bernard Lafayette to pay homage to the people that gave their lives in the fight for equal voting rights.

With the church lights dimmed and candles lit, the crowd sang “This Little Light of Mine” to honor the lives of Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo and Jonathan Daniels.

Jackson’s death was a spark for Selma’s Civil Rights Movement, as it led to the Bloody Sunday march where activists were beaten and gassed on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Reeb, a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was murdered on March 9, 1965, after coming to Selma to protest the actions that took place just days earlier on Bloody Sunday.

Liuzzo, who helped shuttle marchers in the Selma to Montgomery march, was killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan while returning back to Selma.

Daniels sacrificed his life to save teen activist Ruby Sales in Haynesville when he stepped in front of a shotgun blast from a part-time deputy sheriff.

The four martyrs who lost their lives were each honored with a verse in a song, as well as the others that have since died after taking part in the Civil Rights Movement.

Former Selma Mayor James Perkins along with the Rev. F.D. Reese shared a blessing for all those in attendance, who gave a standing ovation in return.

“Certainly, I just want to thank you [all] for your presence,” Reese said, as he addressed the crowd. “I look forward to a fellowship that will exist here tonight, and I look forward to those things that can come from our being together during the jubilee.”

Midway through Thursday night’s service, the crowd parted as Amelia Boynton-Robinson was wheeled to the front of the pulpit.

The crowd honored 103-year-old Boynton-Robinson, one of the leaders of Selma’s movement, with a standing ovation as well.

Robinson was beaten unconscious on Bloody Sunday. An image of her being carried away ran on the front paper of newspapers across the country.

While the service was held in honor of those who have fallen, speakers like Bernard Lafayette and Jim Key, moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association, stressed the importance of looking forward to the future.

“I am profoundly moved to be with you this evening as we gather here to honor the martyrs … and look to the future,” Key said.

“We knew then, and we know now that history is being made here. Yes, we are here in gratitude for those who gave their lives. Yes, we are here to remember and honor the history that was made here 50 years ago, but dear friends, you and I know that there were remains [left] to be done.”