SANDERS: The Jubilee is back in full force

Published 2:24 pm Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Bridge Crossing Jubilee is back in full force. This is the 25th Jubilee. Twenty-five years is a long time. When this is published, Jubilee will be about a week away. The Jubilee starts March 1, 2018. But this Jubilee is different in important ways.

The Jubilee draws tens of thousands each year. One year it drew more than 100,000. It is the largest annual civil rights gathering in the world, and it all happens right here in Selma, Alabama, a city of 20,000. However, people come from across America and faraway places such as Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, the Caribbean and other countries in North America.

The Jubilee comprises many events over a four-day period running from Thursday, March 1 to Sunday, March 4. One event is so identified with the Jubilee that too many think that it alone is the Jubilee. That event is the Jubilee Festival.

However, it is just one of many events. Last year the festival was shrouded in controversy that impacted the whole Jubilee. For the first time in its 25-year history, the festival was not on Water Avenue at the foot of the bridge. It was across the Alabama River on the Montgomery side of the bridge on private property. It was so different.

But this year the festival is back on Water Avenue at the foot of the bridge. It’s where it belongs thanks to courageous action by Selma City Council members led by Councilman Michael Johnson; thanks to the mayor of Selma and others for working with the council.

The spirit of the Jubilee was adversely impacted by the move across the Alabama River because the Jubilee is symbolic of togetherness and for too many people the festival is the Jubilee.

The Jubilee is comprised of many events, as many as fifty during some years. It starts on Thursday with the old-fashioned Mass Meeting at Tabernacle Baptist Church. Tabernacle was the first church in Selma in the 1960s to allow a mass meeting to be held on its premises. That was dangerous because churches were being burned or bombed for little or no civil rights activities. For a while it appeared that this year’s old-fashioned Mass Meeting would be held at a church other than Tabernacle, but leaders got together. I am glad that this matter was worked out.  There are also receptions and other activities on this first day of Jubilee.

The other Jubilee events are far too many to name. Friday is full of workshops on education, health, voting, human rights, jobs and various other issues.

Saturday is filled with a broad range of activities. There is the Foot Soldiers’ Breakfast, other breakfasts, many workshops, inductions into various halls of fame, the Jubilee Parade and the Jubilee Festival with music, storytelling, food and arts and crafts on display and for sale. The night is capped with the Freedom Flame Awards Banquet.

Then comes Sunday. There are so many events.  It starts with the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast at 7:30 in the morning. There are so many nationally known speakers. Congresswoman Maxine Waters will be honored with the National Unity Award this year. U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and Congresswoman Terri Sewell will be there.

Then there are the churches that have their own Jubilee programs on Sunday morning.

Then there is the final series of events. There is the mass rally on the steps of Brown Chapel AME Church, where leaders from across the country speak. Then there is the grand finale – the Bloody Sunday March, where thousands upon thousands march from Brown Chapel AME Church along the route of the 1965 march, across the bridge, and to another mass rally.

Reality is powerful. Symbolism is powerful. The Bridge Crossing Jubilee is both a reality and a symbol. The reality is a massive array of events right here in Selma.  However, the symbolism is far flung, touching people the world over. We are all empowered by the Jubilee spirit. When the reality of the Jubilee is attacked, the spirit suffers. When the Jubilee is united, the spirit flourishes. I am glad the Jubilee spirit is back in full force.