Across the globe, people are remembering Selma. Selma. The name itself evokes images of a disenfranchised, yet courageous, people who valiantly marched across Edmund Pettus Bridge, facing daunting police officers, tear gas and vicious dogs. And black people were joined by many who did not share their skin tone, but shared their belief in justice and equality. Human rights activists, leaders, the young and the elderly marched, determined to attain the long sought right for black people in America to vote. It was March 7, 1965, the climax of the historic Voting Rights Campaign of 1965. That day would come to be known as Bloody Sunday.
Fifty years later, we remember the suffering and sacrifices of those who set out to march from Selma to Montgomery that day. We honor those who gave their lives as they bravely faced the racial oppression during the Voting Rights Campaign. On February 18th Mr. Jimmy Lee Jackson, the nephew of one of my mother's closest high school friends was shot by police in Marion, AL, while he tried to protect his mother from police violence during a protest near the jail, where Rev. James Orange, an SCLC organizer was being held. Jackson died eight days later. Two white supporters of the Voting Rights Movement, Reverend James Reeb and Ms. Viola Liuzzo, would later be slain in an attack fueled by racism for supporting the struggle. The names of these martyrs are forever enshrined in the annals of the American Civil Rights Movement and their heroic sacrifices will never be forgotten.
And so, we remember. In our remembering and in our honoring, we must also be cognizant of the fact that the struggle continues. As my mother, Coretta Scott King, so powerfully phrased it, "Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation." In the midst of the struggle, we now face the formidable task of assessing where we were on March 7, 1965 and where we are now.
Where are we now? It is true that "struggle is a never ending process," but why is humanity still grappling with many of the same issues that we were grappling with 50 years ago? What did the heroes and sheroes of Bloody Sunday possess that we need to cultivate more of today?
We've grappled repeatedly with similar issues in the five decades since Bloody Sunday because we have yet to adopt a shared philosophy, the same philosophy that the organizers of Bloody Sunday subscribed to, Nonviolence. This philosophy, which permeated the thought process, preparation, and implementation of many phases of the modern Civil Rights Movement, is what many ascribe to some of today's movements and efforts. But, are we really witnessing and embracing the philosophy of Nonviolence, the philosophy on display on Bloody Sunday?
Dr. King's Nonviolent philosophy encompasses more than planning an organized response to a violent, racially charged tragedy. It goes beyond showing up as an activist without weapons and without fighting. As my mother stated, nonviolence is "a spiritual discipline that requires a great deal of strength, growth, and purging of the self so that one can overcome almost any obstacle for the good of all without being concerned about one's own welfare."
We moved forward physically and chronologically, but we left this spiritual discipline behind. In a Scripture that clarifies this thought, Luke 2: 43-45, Jesus' parents are returning from Jerusalem after they had traveled there with Jesus for the Feast of Passover. They are returning believing that Jesus is with them. Since they journeyed there together, why would he not be with them on the other leg of their journey? What they did not know is that Jesus had remained in Jerusalem. They were ignorant concerning his location and were not aware that they had continued their journey without something, in this case, someone, who was invaluable and critical.
The Nonviolent philosophy that charged the Voting Rights Campaign and Bloody Sunday is invaluable and critical to us no longer being like firefighters, moving from crisis to crisis. Nonviolence as a lifestyle and perpetual strategy will allow us to be on the offense, instead of continually on the defense. We will be able to move the ball down the field with team decisions and playmaking versus constantly thinking about how the opposing forces are moving the ball.
Nonviolence will empower and equip us to bring generations to the table and fuse our knowledge, gifts and zeal together. We will be able to, as my father stated in his book 'Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?', organize "our strength into compelling power," being mindful that we must prioritize power before programs. If not, programs become impotent, because we will have initiated programs without the necessary infrastructure and organization for those programs.
Indeed, "struggle is a never ending process," but we need not wander aimlessly when we have the example provided to us by the brave Nonviolent foot soldiers of Bloody Sunday. They understood their purpose, had commitment to a common goal, and were, by and large, persistent in and passionate about a philosophy, a galvanizing ideology, which undergirded the Movement.
As our struggle continues and as we remember Selma and Bloody Sunday, let us move forward in the philosophy of Nonviolence. I truly believe that is what we owe those who marched toward violence and racist rage on March 7, 1965. Their resolve and resiliency demands that we lift humanity with the principles and the methodology that transforms us first. These are the echoes that I hear from Selma.
This is the first installment of Bernice A. King's two-part article commemorating the historic Selma to Montgomery Marches for Voting Rights.