Selma, AL -- The country’s eyes and ears were on Selma, AL Saturday, March 7 as they were 50 years ago on that date. Forty-thousand people crammed into the town half that size to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when police broke up an attempted march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to protest for voting rights for all. They were turned away by police on foot and horseback, many beaten as they fled.
Among the attendees at the March 7 event was Southern Maryland’s congressman, Rep. Steny Hoyer and Great Mills High School (GMHS) Senior Mia Moore.
President Barrack Obama spoke to the crowd before the symbolic crossing on the bridge. He likened Selma to the nation’s other great landmarks. “There are places, and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war – Concord and Lexington, Appomattox and Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character – Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral. Selma is such a place.”
The president singled out Rep. John Lewis for honor among those many marchers. Lewis himself was beaten. Noting that Lewis expected to be arrested but surely not beaten, Obama said, “Then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, a book on government – all you need for a night behind bars – John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.”
The reenactment of the bridge march has become an annual event but this year’s was special. Rep. Hoyer (D - MD 5th District) has attended the past ten years with Lewis, his friend and colleague. Hoyer, in an interview with The Bay Net from Selma, praised Obama’s speech. “It is one of the great speeches I have heard him give,” the congressman said.
Hoyer said the message he took from the president’s speech was, “We (the country) are exceptional because we are not self-satisfied and are still working for a more perfect union.” Hoyer added, “The president was clear. We haven’t reached perfection. But we have achieved a better union.”
Obama said, “As we commemorate their achievement (those who marched), we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather that praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, half-breeds, outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse – everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. They lives were threatened. Their patriotism was challenged. And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?”
In the coverage of the event on Saturday by CNN leading up to the president’s speech, several current civil rights leaders said the recent incidents in which black youths had been shot by white policemen showed that not much had changed in 50 years. Obama disagreed.
He said, “Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report showed that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country. I understand the question, for the report’s narrative is woefully familiar. It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement. But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic or sanctioned by law and custom and before the Civil Rights Movement, it surely was.”
The largely Democratic congressional delegation attending the march used the occasion to push for restoration of the portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was stricken down by the U.S. Supreme Court. That act was passed on the heels of the Selma-to-Montgomery’s marchers’ heels and toes. Former President George W. Bush attended the event but did not speak. He was the last president to reauthorize the Voting rights Act.
Moore told The Bay Net from her hotel room in Montgomery, AL on Sunday that she was especially impressed by the historic effort 50 years ago to achieve voting rights. She hopes to bring that message back to GMHS to her peers who are reaching voting age.
“I came to educate others,” she said about her reason for wanting to attend the trip. Moore has experience mentoring her peers through the Basketball4Lyfe program.
Moore was selected by her college advisors to take part in the trip as part of the Faith and Politics Institute’s Students and Stewards Program. She is planning on attending Shenandoah University and become a physical therapist. Her parents are Nikki Moore and Keith Harris.
Moore is an Honor Roll student, captain of the Lady Hornets woman’s basketball teams, violist in the Great Mills Chamber Orchestra and active member of the Student to Student program.
“I was very blessed to be chosen to go,” Moore said. Her itinerary included not only the Selma 50th anniversary event but also a visit to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham where four young girls lost their lives in a firebombing. “It could have been anybody’s little girl,” she said of those who lost their lives. “It was very inspiring.”
Her itinerary also included a visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on Friday and the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery on Sunday.
In Selma, Moore stood side by side with Hoyer during President Obama’s speech and then walked with Hoyer across the bridge. She hopes to bring Hoyer to GMHS before the end of the school year so the two can share their experiences with the student body.