Crossing the bridge in 1965 was by no means as easy as it was this time, and the recent event was made all the more memorable with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, hand-in-hand, with Winnie Mandela, singing We Shall Overcome.
Mandelas appearance at the weeklong commemoration was significantly bolstered by such notables as Rep. John Lewis, who was savagely assaulted in 1965; Haitis ambassador to the U.S., Raymond Joseph; Dr. Ron Daniels of the Haiti Support Project; Mark Thompson of Sirius XM Radio; Atlantas Joe Beasley of Rainbow PUSH; and Juanita Abernathy, widow of Ralph Abernathy.
I feel like Im home again, Mandela told a packed Selma City Council chambers. I bring you loads and loads of love from your ancestors. She stressed the need to build a new movement and to challenge the current leadership.
We must remember where we came from in order to remind our children, she added.
Ambassador Joseph, speaking at the Tabernacle Baptist Church, expressed similar sentiments about being at home, but spent most of his time explaining the history of Haiti and the relief effort currently underway to rebuild the nation torn by an earthquake in January.
Haiti is often described as one of the poorest nations in the world and thats because we have given so much to others, Joseph said. But we do all things through Christ. Before leaving the pulpit, he pulled out his harmonica and delivered the lovely hymn, How Great Thou Art, which inspired the choir and the congregation to break out in song.
In the streets through the week there was singing and marching, and none was more splendid than the Alabama State Universitys marching band. And the Selma High School band was no slouch as they paraded around the citys downtown section.
A day before all the activity on Bloody Sunday there were several workshops, and the salute to Haiti was highlighted by drummer, thumb pianist Tiga, and guitarist, spoken word artist Sharif Simmons. Eddie Harris of Free Speech TV showed portions of his documentary on Haiti, and Dr. Daniels presented an engaging history of Haiti and the work his organization has been doing over the last 15 years.
But it was the march across the bridge that brought out thousands of participants from all over the nation. I try to come every year, said photographer Dale Rich from Detroit. And this one is particularly special since it marks the 45th anniversary, not only of Bloody Sunday but the signing of the Voting Rights Act.
Half away across the bridge which spans the Alabama River, Rev. Jackson asked for a moment of silence while he blessed the event and then gave the bullhorn to Rose Sanders (Toure), one of the events main coordinators. She led the crowd in an oath that they would keep this day sacred and promise to nurture their children and their communities. We have to end the mis-education of our children, she roared.
Curiously, none of the prominent elected officials or leaders of Southern Christian Leadership Conference who attended the services at Brown Chapel were seen alongside Jackson and Mandela.
When the marchers completed the bridge crossing they assembled near the National Voting Rights Museum and heard several speakers, while others prepared themselves from the long 54-mile march to Montgomery. It was announced that it would take a week to finish the journey.
Some of them had arrived in Selma along Highway 80 and stopped at Wright Chapel Baptist Church not too far from the monument in tribute to the martyred Viola Liuzzo, the only white woman killed during the civil rights movement. She was killed while serving as a volunteer to drive marchers back to Selma from Montgomery in 1965.
Its not possible for me to attend each year, but I had to be here for this one since I was at the one in 1965, said Mrs. Abernathy. I hope Ill be around to attend the one five years from now, which should be really glorious.