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A bridge between past and present

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to a large crowd in Selma in March 1965 as they prepare to begin a march to Montgomery.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to a large crowd in Selma in March 1965 as they prepare to begin a march to Montgomery.

Full slate of activities to mark 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”

By Miriam Davis

The year 2015 marks the anniversary of two momentous events in Alabama’s – and the nation’s – history. It marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march and the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott, two crucial events of the civil rights movement. While plans for remembering the Montgomery bus boycott are still in the early stages, plans for the Selma march are well under way.

In fact, there were actually three Selma marches. On March 7, 1965, the first, inspired by the death of an African-American civil rights worker, ended in “Bloody Sunday,” when state troopers and sheriffs’ deputies beat and gassed marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Not until the third attempt was the 54-mile journey to Montgomery completed. Leaving Selma on March 21, civil rights activists arrived in Montgomery on March 24 and marched on the state Capitol the following day.

The historic Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River in Selma will again be in the national eye during the upcoming Selma-to-Montgomery march commemoration. Photo by Art Meripol
The historic Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River in Selma will again be in the national eye during the upcoming Selma-to-Montgomery march commemoration. Photo by Art Meripol

Selma began its commemorations with the start of talent auditions in December. Thirty acts will be eventually selected to compete in the Selma Starz Talent Show on Feb. 27. The following night, the winners will open a concert for what organizers hope will be a big name main act. “This is a way to get young people involved and to showcase local talent,” said Ashly Mason, tourism director for Selma and Dallas County.

The main activities, of course, will be in March. Since 1993, Selma has remembered the march every year with the Bridge Crossing Jubilee. This year will be no different. Beginning March 5, more than 40 events, many of them free, will be held over a four-day period. They include a unity breakfast, a hip-hop, gospel and blues festival, civil and human rights workshops, and a film festival featuring short films about human rights or social justice. A children’s sojourn will use songs, dances, and skits to tell the story of the civil rights movement to elementary school-age children. Events will culminate in a re-creation of the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, March 8.

These events and others – including the release of the major motion picture “Selma,” which was filmed in Montgomery and Selma – will bring a welcome attention to the state.

“An important historical event like this is a unique opportunity to commemorate the leaders and foot soldiers of an important milestone in the nation’s history,” said Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department. “It’s also a great opportunity to measure how far our country has come in that time.”

The commemorations continue throughout the month. From March 21-25, participants can re-enact the entire march from Selma to Montgomery. The National Park Service will sponsor a “Walking Classroom” for 150 selected college students from around the country who will walk the entire route.

When marchers finally arrived in Montgomery on March 24, 1965, the only accessible shelter they found was the City of St. Jude, a Catholic social service organization. St. Jude is planning its own commemoration of the events of 50 years ago. On the night before the march on the Capitol in 1965, such entertainers as Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter, Paul, and Mary performed a “Stars for Freedom Rally” on the grounds. On March 24, St. Jude will stage a re-enactment of the concert, but instead of Hollywood stars, it will feature young local talent.

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Several events in Montgomery will mark the date of Bloody Sunday. On March 6, the Imani Winds quartet and baritone soloist Sidney Outlaw will perform the world premier of composer Mohammed Fairouz’s “Deep Rivers,” a set of songs specially commissioned for the occasion. On March 7, Patti Labelle will appear in concert at Alabama State University.

St. Jude and the city of Montgomery are partnering to re-enact the last leg of the march, the one made by some 25,000 people on the state Capitol on March 25. A ceremony on the steps of the Capitol will feature an address by Bernice King, youngest child of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. That morning the city of Montgomery will sponsor a heroes’ breakfast for some of the original marchers.

Because the Montgomery public schools will be out for spring break March 23-27, educational tours will take eighth through 12th-graders to historical sites in Tuskegee, Selma and Montgomery.

The commemorations are important to the city of Montgomery, said Anita Archie, chief of staff for Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange. “We want to show the world that the city of Montgomery has changed a great deal,” Archie says. “But the city of Montgomery also remembers. We remember, we honor, and we want to continue working for change. There’s still work to be done.”

Events are accurate as of press time, but are subject to change. For a complete list of commemoration events and the latest information, visit dreammarcheson.com and www.selmajubilee.com.