Recapping the weekend from Bridge Crossing

Published 9:17 pm Friday, March 24, 2017

Awesome. That’s the word that comes to mind to describe the 25th Bridge Crossing Jubilee. In spite of the challenges, a loyal band of volunteers managed to pull off what some thought impossible. The challenges were great but the blessings were greater.

Several weeks before the Jubilee, our finances were frugal. The sponsors that supported us in the past had become scarcer and scarcer. Yet, we persevered. With tremendous support from Dr. James Mitchell and Wallace Community College Selma, we managed to book some phenomenal acts for our festival. But the costs of the stage, sound and other critical expenses loomed before us. We made a small loan and persevered. Then came what some thought was the final blow. Mayor Darrio Melton demanded that we pay $30,000 plus to have the festival on Water Avenue. I countered with a proposal that limited the number of police officers required for public safety. Contrary to the city’s assertion, we did not need security for four or five days. Nearly all of the Jubilee events are not held on public property. On Thursday, the mass meeting was held at Tabernacle Church, which held the first mass meeting of the movement in 1963. The workshop, film festival, mock trial, public conversation, “Stepping Out on the Vote” step show and other events were not held on public property. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were the only remaining days. Judge Collins Pettway worked out a compromise to pay for security for the parade permit so threats of not allowing our children to march were voided. The only remaining events on public property were the festival and the march. The city offered to lower the fee to $17,000 if we would separate the gospel stage from its traditional space on Water Avenue. This offer came a week before the festival. We had to decide quickly and move quickly. We decided the conditions were not fair or practical. Then we decided to move the festival across the river, which seemed impractical and near impossible. But amazingly, we did it. The costs were great but the success was greater. The crowd was down because of the confusion, but the spirit was high.

The new police chief came to the festival and threatened, under orders of the mayor to close the festival down if every vendor, including nonprofit vendors, did not pay $50. A few paid. Then attorney Faya Rose Toure asked the chief to show his authority to charge $50 to vendors outside the city in its police jurisdiction. She offered to pay the fee for every vendor if he could show the ordinance that gave him the authority to act in such an aggressive way. He backed down because he could not produce the authority or relevant ordinance. Unfortunately, he also threatened to arrest Toure on private property when she wouldn’t stop talking to some students to talk to him. He backed down again because he again realized, to his credit, that he had no authority to arrest Toure for advocating vendors and the festival. This was just a small matter compared to four days of uninterrupted educational and cultural activities designed to inform and inspire citizens, especially our youth to learn from the past, but to use lessons from the past to address problems we face today. Of course, undue attention was given to a basketball event that the Jubilee did not sponsor. However, the sponsor of that event has successfully held the event for several years without incident. The young organizers should be encouraged, not discouraged.

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Finally, the Sunday march was also awesome. Thousands of people showed up and demonstrated discipline, an amazing spirit and the commitment to honor the past and continue the struggle for voting rights. Dr. William Barber, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and hundreds of foot soldiers crossed the bridge.

Lastly, we are grateful to you, the public, for your support and understanding. We are grateful for our sponsors and supporters, including the National Voting Rights Museum, Wallace Community College Selma, Concordia College Alabama, Ancient African Enslavement and Civil Water Museum, the Selma City School Board of Education, the Dallas County Commission, the Selma to Montgomery Foundation, the Lowndes County Commission and scores of volunteers, without who the Jubilee would not be possible. Next year, I believe Jubilee will be even bigger and better thanks to you.

We need people to march to commemorate Bloody Sunday, but we also need them to do something for Selma. Most tourists don’t stay, eat or buy in Selma. The theme of the Jubilee displayed in our banner in the march was “Do Something for Selma.” By working together, Jubilee and Selma will grow. Our ideals are greater than our differences. Let’s work together and get the job done.
Sam Walker

Bridge Crossing Jubilee Co-Coordinator