The thing is, you don’t know what’s going to happen this time. What you know for sure -- because it has already happened -- is that people were attacked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge the first time they tried to cross it on March 7. The second attempt was also rebuffed. Now comes try number three, and you are part of it.
You hope everything will be alright, but you do not know. Yes, the nation was outraged by the televised beatings of those first of marchers two weeks ago. And now there are federal marshals and the support of the White House. But this is 1965 we’re talking about, and this bridge you’re about to cross is the physical equivalent of a metaphysical journey. You—and those with you—are attempting to cover new ground. If you succeed, you will not only have secured the vote but achieved something within yourself that cannot be accomplished in any other way.
If you do it right, you will have left behind something others can look to, whatever their cause, when they are trying to make up their own minds about how to get from where they are to where they would like to be. From who they are to whom they would like to be. And it’s all up to you. Whether you can find something inside yourself that will keep your feet moving over the next five days across the 54 miles between Selma and Montgomery.
Some of what you need to get through this will come from Dr. King. A little more may flow from celebrities like Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne who are marching too. But the lion’s share must come from some place inside yourself, which if you can find it, will make you more yourself than you have ever been before.
FAST FORWARD TO FIFTY YEARS LATER
When we look at momentous events from the past, we are faced with two options. The first is to see the event historically, which leaves us in a bit of a quandary. History is but a story, and our idea of that story is shaped by the people who tell it. Do they have all the facts? Do they have an axe to grind? Are they capable?
The second option is to look at the past metaphorically. What irrefutable fact exists, separate from interpretation, which might be useful and instructive fifty or even a hundred years after the event itself?
Here are several views of Selma that may provide insight for anyone seeking to understand what happened in March of 1965. The first clip is Vernon Jordan’s recent interview with Al Hunt on the Charlie Rose show. The second two are interviews with Ava Duvernay, director of the feature film, Selma. These are followed by a video of black-and-white still photographs of the event itself. (If the Vernon Jordan interview fails to play, click here.)
Finally, there is this historical record from Stanford University, which may shed additional light and perspective on Selma and its legacy.
It must be noted that Selma did not occur in a vacuum. In what now seems like a watershed year, people were living their lives and trying to get by just as they do now. They were dancing to Sam Sham and the Pharaohs' "Woolly Bully." The Beatles recorded "Help." Elvis Presley released "Crying in the Chapel," and the Temptations had a hit single called "My Girl." The great Winston Churchill died. So did T.S. Eliot. The Odd Couple opened on Broadway with Walter Matthau and Art Carney. The movie version of The Sound of Music was released, and a boxer called Cassius Clay converted to the Muslim religion, changing his name to Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, up in the sky, a Soviet Cosmonaut, Aleksei Leonov, left his capsule and walked around in space for 20 minutes, the first human ever to do so. If all these things could happen in the first few months of 1965, why not do something even more wonderful and allow people of color to have the vote?
Why Your Idea of What Happened In Selma 50 Years Ago May Not Be As Reliable As You Think: Vernon Jordan, Ava Duvernay & the Photographs
Here is audio and text ofKing's speech on March 25
I'm a storyteller whose background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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