March sees wide range of views, emotions

Published 8:20 pm Wednesday, March 11, 2015

By Kim Chandler | The Associated Press

The people who gathered Sunday in Selma have a range of reasons for crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which remains an enduring symbol of the struggle for civil rights a half-century after marchers were beaten by law officers. Here’s a look at what happened this Sunday, as people gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1965 violence known as “Bloody Sunday”:


Email newsletter signup

As he gazed toward the bridge on Sunday afternoon, William Baldwin of Montgomery said he feels “that we haven’t accomplished what we need to accomplish as far as equality in this country.”

Baldwin, 69, joined the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march in Lowndes County, between the two cities. Baldwin brought his grandsons, ages 11 and 15, to Selma to see the bridge firsthand.

“They’re going to take this struggle on and we have to understand the price that was paid for them to have what they have now,” Baldwin said. “It wasn’t granted to them, it was earned by blood, sweat and tears.”


Deandra Johnson, 20, of Pensacola, Florida, traveled by bus with a church group to Selma and said she was struck by how similar the bridge and surrounding area looked to photos and footage from 1965.

“I kind of like that nothing has been changed because it keeps it real for you,” she said.

Crossing the bridge Sunday afternoon rekindled sense of gratitude toward demonstrators who were attacked there, Johnson said.

“It was a surreal moment,” she said, adding that she hopes more young people have opportunities to walk across the span in their lifetime.


Theresa Burroughs of Greensboro was among the group of demonstrators from the 1965 march who returned to Selma for the weekend.

Burroughs said practical matters were on her mind as she and the others crossed the bridge ahead of thousands of visitors.

“I was thinking my feet was hurting — it’s the truth,” Burroughs said with a quiet laugh as she sat in the shade near the spot where demonstrators were attacked by police.

“I would take the hurt I had this year, 50 years later, better than I took those Billy clubs,” she said. “I’m so proud I was able to walk across. They didn’t have to carry me across, thank God.”


With the Oscar-nominated movie “Selma” and President Barack Obama’s Saturday visit, this city has been thrust back into the international spotlight.

Potholes were filled, litter removed and flowers planted.

But the spruced-up appearance accompanies a hard economic reality for much of the city, where nearly 42 percent of people live in poverty and the median household income is $22,478.


Willie White Harris, 70, of Selma was one of the demonstrators who was attacked by police on the bridge 50 years ago and was critical of the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate sections of the voting rights act in 2013.

“It’s a slap in the face, an insult to all who have given their lives for righteousness sake,” he said. “The struggle is just beginning really. We’ve got a long, long way to go. We’ve got to be vigilant.”

“When you come back across you get flashbacks of that event but that doesn’t last too long because of the change that has come about because of that incident. A whole lot of good has come out if that tragedy.”


Selma honored former President Lyndon Johnson, the signer of the Voting Rights Act 1965, as the city commemorated the 50th anniversary of the clash between police and marchers that galvanized support for the law.

Luci Baines Johnson accepted the award Sunday on her father’s behalf.

“It means the world to me to know that half a century later you remember how deeply Daddy cared about social justice and how hard he fought to make it happen,” Johnson said.


Throughout the weekend, many participants have called for restoration of part of the Voting Rights Act.

The U.S Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a section which required states with a history of minority voter suppression to get permission from the Justice Department before changing voting laws.

“It seems like the clock is being turned back 50 years. After all of the strides that have been made, all of the blood that has been shed,” said State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, a Democrat from Mobile.