On this date in 1965, 53 years ago, 8,000 people set out from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery to protest ongoing suppression of the black vote, violence against black people and the general racism of American society. This was their third attempt at such a march.
The first planned launch, led by current Congressman John Lewis, on March 7, came to a horrifying end when horse-mounted police and regular old racists blocked their path at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, beating 600 or so protesters with nightsticks, fists and boots, an attack that left dozens injured, including a young woman named Amelia Boynton, whose unconscious body became emblematic of the injustice happening down south. The event was immediately dubbed “Bloody Sunday.”
The second go, two days later, on March 9, was truncated due to a court order: a judge was still considering the protesters’ routes and the organizing organizations, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Southern Christian Leadership Conference under Martin Luther King Jr., agreed to stop short of the county line, turning back right before the spot where previous incident unfolded. This event became known as “Turnaround Tuesday.”
Yet even this small show of black resistance to overwhelming racism enraged hateful white folk, including a mob that beat Jacob Reeb to death, an incident that only drew more attention to the terror in the Heart of Dixie.
Thus, even more people, about 8,000, turned out at the start of the next planned march, on the 21st, gathering as a powerful mass as they took off behind Lewis, Dr. King, and others from Selma on their four-day journey to Montgomery, by which point their numbers had swelled to 25,000. And no longer were these just student and religious protesters — they now had President Johnson’s blessing. Supportive before, Johnson was appalled by Bloody Sunday and vowed not only to get a Voting Rights Act passed, but sent personal representatives to Alabama to make sure the next Selma march went off without a hitch.
Today, with a president who pals around with white supremacists, defends neo-Nazis and who has exhibited time and time again he has no respect for people of color, it’s important to remember that even in the face of state-sponsored violence and terroristic threats, Americans who believe in equality will keep coming back, fighting and marching, raising fists and holding placards, until the injustice is undone.
Remember that, Donald Trump: No matter how much fear and loathing you try to churn, Americans who support truth and justice will always win. It may take some time, but the end result will be the same: hateful people such as you and your allies will end up on the wrong side of history. How “Sad!” for you, Mr. President.