Forty-five years ago today, 30,000 marchers poured into Montgomery, Alabama to demonstrate for voting rights. John Lewis, then Chairman of SNCC, now a Congressman from Georgia, was granted time on the podium that afternoon, and Martin Luther King Jr. gave his powerful “How Long, Not Long” speech.
March 25th wasn’t the protestors’ first attempt to reach the state capitol. Two weeks earlier, Lewis had been at the head of a line of solemn marchers who’d walked anxiously out of Selma. In what became known as Bloody Sunday, the marchers were stopped at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge by mounted deputies and state troopers. Acting under the orders from Governor George Wallace, they attacked the marchers with tear gas, clubs and cattle prods.
Lining the sides of the road were whites who’d come out to watch for sport, their taunts and threats caught by network news. What they said was ugly, and generously spiked with the N-word.
One of the first protestors clubbed down was Lewis. Scores of others were injured as well, among them fourteen year old Lynda (Blackmon) Lowery. Determined to show Governor Wallace he couldn’t stop her, she marched again two weeks later, the black threads of her stitches dangling on her forehead.
Along the route, hostile whites came to watch and jeer. Overhead, a small government surveillance plane circled, scanning the nearby woods for hidden sharpshooters. “I was not brave,” Lowery said. “I was not courageous. I was determined. That’s how I got to Montgomery.”
Just last Saturday, Representative Lewis along with several other members of Congress had racist Americans slinging the N word at him again. It went further than the congressional halls as Tweets urging the assassination of the president went out on two Twitter sites.
Forty-five years on, and we’ve got hate talk, hate Tweets. Hate radio’s been popping with an “us against them” mentality since the House passed the Health Bill on Sunday. The racism, implied and overt, is both frightening and depressing. We’re all going to need fourteen year old Lowery’s determination. That arc of the moral universe Dr. King was counting on has still got a long ways to go as it bends towards justice.