I stood there at the bridge with thousands upon thousands of other people from different states and countries. We all looked up to behold the Edmund Pettus Bridge sign as we stepped in the footprints that were preserved in blood and tears in 1965. It is a bridge that was named after a Klansman, but not just any Klansman: Pettus was the Grand Dragon, or highest authority, of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. He was also a lawyer and a Confederate general during the Civil War. It is a little ironic that this bridge, which bears the name of a man who supported slavery and hated black people so much he joined an organization whose primary goal was to make them extinct, would be the place in 1965 where America would clearly see the injustice it inflicted on its own people.
I was encased in the crowd by people I didn’t know, but we didn’t look at each other as strangers, rather as distant cousins of the same family. A lady who stood by me called me “baby,” and an older one called me “honey,” like I was her daughter. Then I began to hear her and her church sing hymns as we walked on the bridge.
I saw senior citizens in wheelchairs and with canes trying to see the place where they gained their right to be seen as citizens of this country. Children were immersed in the crowd, eager to walk across the bridge their grandparents taught them about.
But this reenactment was more than just about commemorating 50 years; it was to challenge ourselves, as our predecessors did, to seek justice. We remember Bloody Sunday with the dogs, the tear gas and the brutality, not to harp on hatred or feel some sort of sadness, but to remember the same spirit that flowed through the foot soldiers who were knocked to the ground, beaten by police officers, ripped apart by dogs and hunted down in their neighborhoods like animals. The spirit that made them get back up and march again did not die with them. That spirit is still around today, but the question is: what are we doing with it?
The work that was started on that bridge is unfortunately not finished today. The African American community and the police still have a hostile relationship; section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was repealed by the Supreme Court and now southern states have started requiring photo IDs and have moved voting polls to places less accessible to the entire public. Racism still plagues this country. It’s not being talked about in schools; instead, students are taught that we live in a post-racial society. The church, through its silence, has decided that racism is too uncomfortable to talk about.
The Freedom Riders were in college when they decided to make a statement against the segregation in the South. At a young age, before any of them had graduated, they decided to put their lives on the lines to fight against the injustice around them.
What are we willing to do?