On March 7, 1965, 600 civil rights marchers left Selma, Alabama for Montgomery. Governor George Wallace called the march a threat to public safety and vowed to do all in is power to prevent this rabble from marching all the way to his office in Montgomery. When the 600 came to the Edmund Pettis Bridge, a wall of state troopers was waiting for them, and the beating they administered led to “Bloody Sunday.”
They did not reach the capital.
The marchers set out again on March 9th, this time with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the way. They began, then strategically turned back. It took a third try, on March 21, to make it.
On March 21, 1990, the twenty-fifth anniversary observance of the march, Joe Smitherman, the mayor of Selma stood on the platform. Beside him was George Wallace in a wheelchair. Smitherman was still Selma’s mayor (he served for 36 years and only left office in 2000). Smitherman, the man who in 1965 referred to the civil rights leader as “Martin Luther Coon,” spoke. “Twenty-five years ago George Wallace and I were wrong. We thought this was outside agitation—we did not know that it was the coming of justice.”
The fear and anger that motivated Smitherman and Wallace—and all who stood with them—reminds me of something Dr. King said:
People often hate each other because they fear each other,
they fear each other because they don’t know each other,
they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate,
they cannot communicate because they are separated.
This weekend is a time to commit ourselves to the vision of that Selma march, a vision of a unified humanity. What gap of separation are we called, in God’s name, to close today?