January 21, 2012

The March Continues

After three weeks in Florida, Tim and I drove northward yesterday into Alabama.  Almost immediately, the topography began to change, and we saw rolling hills and deciduous trees for the first time in quite some time.  We also saw evidence of Alabama’s status of one of the poorest states in the country.

We made our way to Selma, Alabama, where we planned to start a tour of sites associated with the Civil Rights Movement.  Selma was the focus of the voting rights movement in the 1960s and was the beginning point of the fifty-four mile march to the state capitol in Montgomery in 1965.  In the days preceding the march, citizens were attacked by Alabama state troopers and a posse organized by Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  In what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” marchers were beaten with nightsticks and gassed with tear gas, as they were driven back through the streets of Selma.  Major news media recorded the horrific events, and the spotlight was on Selma.

Edmund Pettus Bridge
We Crossed the Bridge
One week later President Lyndon Johnson sent a voting rights bill to Congress.  When a judge lifted an injunction against another march, President Johnson ordered federal troops and national guardsmen to protect the marchers.  On March 21, 1965, a peaceful group of 4,000 individuals began the historic march to Montgomery.  The crowd grew to 25,000 as they approached the Alabama State Capitol, where Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed the triumphant group.  The march was the impetus that enabled President Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Law into law on August 6.

The National Park Service interprets the Selma to Montgomery march as a National Historic Trail.  A new interpretive center in Selma is being developed to tell the story.  The Lowndes Interpretive Center, located halfway between Selma and Montgomery, already presents a compelling film and exhibits on the march and its context.  This center is located on the site of Tent City, an encampment established by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to house tenant farmers and their families who were evicted by white landowners after the farmers registered to vote or participated in voting rights activities.

Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail Markers
The National Park Service Has Partnered with the City of Selma
to Open the Interpretive Center on the Corner
The Architecture of the Lowndes Interpretive Center
Recalls the Edmund Pettus Bridge and Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church
We finished tracing the march this morning in Montgomery, where we visited the Alabama State Capitol and the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Reverend King became pastor in 1955.  It was this church that served as the headquarters for the successful boycott of the Montgomery bus system in 1955-1956.

Alabama State Capitol
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
The interpretation of the march tells an incredible story, but nothing has been as compelling for me as the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery.  Here, sculptor Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., created a “memorial to hope.”  The memorial honors those who died during the Civil Rights Movement and enables one to reflect on the ongoing struggle for equality.

Civil Rights Memorial
The memorial is simple, a circular black granite table that is etched with historic events that define the movement, as well as the names of those who were killed.  Water is a key feature, and it flows across the top.  I love to watch people touching the names on the monument through the water and see their reactions.  Touch is actually encouraged here.  It’s a very powerful thing.

Reflecting on the Names and Events of the Civil Rights Movement
A Touching Memorial
Adjacent to the memorial is the Civil Rights Memorial Center, which adds faces to the names on the memorial.  The center tells their stories, as well as more recent stories in the continuing quest for justice.  Unfortunately, the struggle is far from over, and the center reminds us that hate and intolerance are still with us.

At the end, the center invites visitors to take a pledge to work for justice by adding their names to the Wall of Tolerance.  Tim and I both took the pledge and committed ourselves to working in our daily lives for justice, equality and human rights.  Our names were then projected on the wall, and we joined the thousands of other individuals who have taken the pledge.  I cannot explain just how moving and meaningful this experience was.

Tim Took the Pledge
So Did Sarah


  1. Wow! This gave me goosebumps. What a great idea of having a pledge. Your names look very nice on that wall. LV

  2. LV, Yes, it really is that kind of place. I think the idea of taking a pledge is an incredible idea, and seeing our names on the wall made it seem even more real. Sarah