Signs designate the route marchers walked from Selma to Montgomery.

Signs designate the route marchers walked from Selma to Montgomery.

Fifty years ago on this date, thousands who believe in liberty and justice for all reached a milestone: Their five-day march from Selma to the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery was over. However, their peaceful struggle for voting rights for all American citizens, granted by the U.S. Constitution, was not. In fact, since 1965, the struggle for equality and human decency has been bequeathed to each generation because of unChristlike individuals in the South—and in northern states such as Wisconsin and Ohio—who are perversely pleasured by treating others in ways that they would not want to be treated.

Unquestionably, none of them wants to be denied any of their legal rights. They certainly would not want to be maimed or murdered for trying to exercise that right, as was the case on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. Ironically, many of these people call themselves Christians, yet actively snub these words from their favorite text: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

“Justice too long delayed is justice denied” ~MLK

Others are aligned with a different set of values, those of the Rev. Martin Luther King, who wrote from his cell in Birmingham, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” So, on the 50th anniversary of that Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, 80,000 likeminded people flocked to Selma to stand in solidarity with those who were viciously brutalized for daring to cross the bridge to demand the right to vote. My daughter and I were among them.

80,000 people marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 8, 2015

The Edmund Pettus Bridge came into view, as we turned a corner in downtown Selma.

The experience was a bit surreal. All the hotels in the area were booked. But an Internet search for groups traveling to Selma led me to a national conference of Unitarian Universalists (UU) who were commemorating the 50th anniversary of the march. They had a block of rooms at a downtown Birmingham hotel, and offered a one-day package that included the bus trip from the hotel to Selma and back, with meals. Perfect!

Maybe we were separated at birth

Frankly, I knew very little about the UU church. But oddly enough, many years ago, I took the “Belief-O-Matic” quiz on Beliefnet.com. I’d taken it before. I was a little bit of this, a little bit of that and a whole lot New Thought Christian. I figured that the outcome would be the same. But this time, after answering 20 questions about my concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more, the Belief-O-Matic churned out a different response: I was 100% Unitarian Universalist. (The site says it’s for entertainment purposes, so entertain yourself and test drive your beliefs!)

Unitarian Universalists march again in 2015

“My peeps”

A decade later, after never attending a UU church service, Fate sent me to Selma, to share this voting rights adventure with “my peeps”—sisters and brothers from another mother, who see the Divine in every body.

The synchronicity became more intriguing—and meaningful—when I discovered that the UUs had been actively involved with the voting rights movement in the mid-sixties. Living their beliefs, a number of Unitarian Universalists who were fearlessly sincere about equality, put some skin in the game. Literally. They left their homes and families in various parts of the country, and worked and lived alongside the Freedom Riders. Some were beaten or murdered for their effort.

If you saw the movie “Selma,” you’ll recall the scene where two ministers were attacked for being “nigger lovers.” One was brutally beaten to death: Rev. James Reeb, a UU minister. At the end of the movie, producers noted that one woman was murdered in an ambush on March 25, as she drove black voting rights workers to the airport, hours after the final march. Viola Liuzzo was a Detroit housewife and yes, a Unitarian Universalist.

Destination: Destiny

When I boarded my plane to Birmingham, my daughter was already onboard. Her flight from New York to had one stop in Chicago. How cool was that?

I thought nothing could top those travel arrangements—until we left the hotel in Birmingham on Sunday morning with 500 of the most genuinely kind and loving individuals I have ever had the great fortune to meet. For them, boarding buses to Selma was a re-enactment of UU history. For me, wearing their bright yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” T-shirt was an honor.

Only a handful of these souls was wearing a black “human body costume” (Drama Queen Workshop-speak). But it was rare to glance through the crowd and not see someone wearing a UU “Black Lives Matter” sticker. (See, I told you they were “my peeps”.)

A few had extra ribbons on their conference name tags that said “Veteran.” They had come to Alabama or had harbored black and white voters’ rights workers in their homes in 1965 and survived.

Pat and daughter Maiysha

My daughter Maiysha and I, as we approached the bridge

Walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that day evoked both the sadness I experienced while watching footage of the barbaric Alabama police on the evening news that Bloody Sunday in 1965. But there was also a feeling of victory and empowerment, walking the path of the subsequently victorious march across that bridge weeks later, on March 25.

Is Selma a bridge too far?

The experience was bittersweet for my daughter, Maiysha, as well: She was humbled to be part of the historic commemorative march, but dismayed by the condition of the city that brought the nation’s attention to the post-slavery brutality of the South.

“This place should be a monument to a movement!” she screamed in utter exasperation.

Actually, Selma is a monument, a monument to stagnation and to the pain and human suffering of those whom the voting rights movement left behind; the barely-getting-by life of a people with few life options. Their futures were planted and deeply rooted in the city, where it withered, rotted and died, as reflected in the homes we passed near downtown Selma.

A home in SelmaIMG_1457

Selma’s tiny downtown area was the same. In fact, it could have been a movie lot: edifices, but no commerce inside—with the exception of the large Diamond Center and Cadillac dealership.

One nightclub along the main strip took advantage of the worldwide attention, and cried out to the throngs passing by. Few even noticed.

DSC00958

Millionaire movie stars, a billionaire entertainment mogul and two U. S. presidents have seen Selma in recent weeks. Another 80,000 of us came to pay homage. We waved at the people along our path, then we boarded our buses and left Selma exactly as we found it: Forgotten and forlorn.

How does Selma cross a bridge to victory?

Share →

6 Responses to Selma: A bridge too far?

  1. Nancy Cedar says:

    Patricia,
    A lovely, joyful and sad accounting of your experience along with us. (I remember you and your beautiful daughter, Vonna introduced us there) We are still trying to process the whole trip to Selma–as you put it so well-“-forgotten and forlorn”
    That such an icon to the civil rights movement should be falling into decay is tragic–and lays heavily on my conscience–
    Come visit us sometime! Or find a UU congregation to your liking! Thanks for your kind words–

  2. Hi Patricia,

    I just finished reading your blog post. You know, initially I wanted to be among the masses (as a journalist) to commemorate 50 years ago but then I thought was is the point. Obviously, not much has changed there in 50 years so what good did a march across the bridge really do? It made well-meaning folks feel good and then get back on their planes, trains and buses and return home. Why, over a 50 year period, was there no uproar about changing the name of that bridge?

    I do believe the connections you made there will be priceless so from that perspective, it would be a worthwhile trip. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Thank you for your feedback, Beverly. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I set out on that adventure with a lot of hope. The trip certainly wasn’t mandatory; but after feeling helpless while watching it on TV 50 years ago, I was as compelled to be there as you were to stay away. Each of us followed our inner voice, and that’s the important thing.

      Regarding the renaming of the bridge: To me, it would be like white-washing history. Among the things that have not changed is the demonic and barbaric nature of those who hate anyone who is not like themselves. The sturdy bridge named after Edmund Pettus reminds us that America still has a river to cross before it can honestly call itself a “Christian nation.”

  3. Your words really uplifted me Patricia. How happy I was to have connected with you and you with us. Wish I could have shared some life stories with you. We do have lots to do to transform the racism that remains and to help poverty stricken places such as Selma move into the future..If you ever come to Washington, please look me up. We have an guest room and you will find many friends at our UU Congregation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *