FIFTY YEARS AFTER SELMA
The film Selma has done part of the work for all of us. It provides fact and fiction for remembering. It emphasizes the before and after of March 7, 1965 on Edmund Pettus Bridge. For a small number of viewers, the film may suggest what the work of the present might entail.
I recall that we are still breathing fifty years after the dramatic clash of KKK and CORE in Bogalusa, Louisiana; after the deaths of Malcolm X, Viola Liuzzo, and Jonathan Daniels; after the barely remembered fact that Wharlest Jackson was murdered in Natchez, Mississippi after he was promoted to a job reserved whites; after demonstrations of outrage in the Watts area of Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago; after James M. Nabrit, Jr. was appointed United States Ambassador to the United Nations and Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. For a few of us, remembering is an invitation to act.
I am moved to become involved in sponsoring out-of-school learning activities for young people in New Orleans after reading a few sentences from Donald P. Stone’s Fallen Prince: William James Edwards (1990):
Selma had been of paramount importance to the Confederate war effort. An ordnance manufacturing depot located, hard upon the banks of the Alabama River, made it a strategic shipping center. Benjamin S. Turner, the Afro-American Reconstruction Congressman who served in the 42nd Congress, was from Selma. Edmund Pettus, U.S. Senator from 1896-1907 also hailed from Selma. Pettus proved a great obstruction to the democratic aspiration of Afro-Americans. In his view the “Negro is unfit for government.” In 1902 when Pettus was reelected to the Senate, Edwards wrote: “No hope for colored schools. Senator Pettus reelected.” (47-48)
The heirs of Edmund Pettus now control the House of Representatives and the Senate. Their unfiltered hatred for the American President guides their efforts to minimize democratic aspiration and to become killers of such American dreams that young African Americans might wish to embrace. I feel obligated to teach these young people that they are fit for government and fit to govern themselves and others. I must be active in efforts to help young people do battle with all the forces that tell them their lives count for naught in the American body politic. Perhaps I should begin with helping them to make a critical analysis of John Balaban’s poem “After The Inauguration, 2013” (NYRB, March 19, 2015, p. 29), especially of its epigraph ---“Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins” (Hebrews, 9:22). Fifty years after Selma, the battle to free the mind so that the body might be free continues.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. March 5, 2015