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Selma, Alabama: Over a Thousand Gather to Commemorate Bloody Sunday

By Chapin Gray

Edmund Pettus bridge, over heads of crowd

Selma, AL – Over 1000 people gathered here, Sunday, March 4, to commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the 1965 civil rights demonstration known as Bloody Sunday – during which over 600 men, women and children crossed over the Edmund Pettus bridge and were attacked with tear gas, clubs and violence from police. The event gained notoriety around the world, making obvious the hypocrisy of the U.S. government and pushing forward the Voting Rights Act that was passed five months later.

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both made appearances at the march and spoke at the rally outside the Brown Chapel AME Church. While the speeches focused mainly on the upcoming elections and the civil rights movement, Senator Obama briefly addressed the issue of the war at a Democratic campaign meeting before the rally, calling it “ill-conceived.” “The billions spent in Iraq could have been re-invested in Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham,” he said. “We can end this war in Iraq.” Obama, who has not come out for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, also spoke of the need for universal health care and improvements in education.

However, not everyone was convinced that all the candidates are sincere in their commitments towards social change, particularly for the African-American community. Others were skeptical that real progress has been achieved since the fateful day in Selma in 1965. Despite civil rights achievements, racism, discrimination and national oppression are still widespread and injustices continue.

James Bevel from Eutaw, Alabama, who wore a noose around his neck, does not believe the issues that people marched for in 1965 have been resolved. “Now they don't lynch colored folk in America, they lynch colored folk in the Middle East,” he said, making a reference to the hanging of Saddam Hussein.

Others pointed out the worsening conditions for African-Americans in the U.S. and doubt whether true progress has been made. “There are more black young men in jail than in college,” said the Reverend Al Sharpton during his speech. “A high number of ex-prisoners are disenfranchised. Those who were not with us in 1965 are not with us today. Those who would not let us vote, undercount our votes today. Those that were hanging us then, are hanging our votes today.”

Larry Howard, who was twelve when he stood on Edmund Pettus and saw police mercilessly beat protesters, agreed. “Spend a few days in Selma, and you’ll quickly learn that what was there in the sixties – in terms of poverty, in terms of unemployment – still exist today.”

Alabama, the birthplace of the civil rights movement, has seen few improvements, especially for those in rural areas. ‘Right-to-work’ laws mean weak unions and low pay, particularly for African-American women, whom make up a significant portion of the autoworkers here.

Howard noted, “The Honda Motor corporation has opened supply companies operating in Alabama that pay $6, $7 dollars an hour instead of $20 or $30 like the rest of the country, in conditions that are practically that of sweat-shop or slavery conditions. People work long hours and can be fired for refusing to work overtime. Never have I seen Black females work harder than they do in this county.” The contrast was made clear as political celebrities, including former President Bill Clinton, posed for news crews in front of dilapidated projects and as protesters thronged the streets, marching through low income neighborhoods.

Also present at the march was a contingent of the New Black Panther Party, who as the crowd marched through Selma and across the bridge, raised their fists and chanted “Black Power!”

“This is a new generation of struggle,” said Malik Z Shabazz, chairman of the New Black Panther Party, “For the Black community, it is not just Bloody Sunday, but Bloody Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.” Shabazz added, “Yesterday there was Vietnam, today there is a war led by a warmonger named Bush,” before his microphone was grabbed by one of the organizers.

Despite differences, all could agree that the struggle for civil and human rights does not end with the walk across the bridge, but involves renewed commitment towards ending injustice, both in the Black community and around the world.

Young people especially have a vital role in this fight. “Work hard and sacrifice, the way those did in the sixties,” Shabazz responded, when asked what responsibilities student activists today have. “Embody that same spirit and continue the struggle, whether against police brutality at home or U.S. imperialism abroad.”

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