Friday, March 13, 2015

Modern-day Selma protesters decry GOP-led efforts to turn back the clock on gains from 1965 sacrifices

(To the right, civil rights researcher and protester Antoinette Harrell at last week's commemoration in Selma, Ala.)

SELMA, Ala. – The first time I visited this town more than two decades ago Joe Smitherman was still mayor and activist lawyer J.L. Chestnut Jr. was still around to remind him of the bad old days when Smitherman as mayor allowed the beating and tear-gassing of civil rights marchers on March 7, 1965.

Both Smitherman and Chestnut are gone now, but the memories of what happened 50 years ago were very much alive this past weekend as Labor South joined tens of thousands of others to commemorate the courage of those who risked their lives for the civil rights of all Americans. People also came to protest the modern-day erosion of those rights.

(The Rev. William Barber II)

The Rev. William Barber II, North Carolina NAACP president and Moral Monday movement leader, said he brought 150 people with him to the event. “We’re here to honor the memory of the sacrifice. The very things that they marched about has been gutted.”

Macye Chatman, 70, a civil rights-era veteran who spent her 20th birthday in jail in Montgomery, Ala., because of her protests at the time of the Selma march, agreed. “We are right back to where we were in 1965. We are making so many steps backward.”

(To the right, Macye Chatman)

Barber, Chatman and others are incensed at Republican-led efforts in the South and beyond to restrict voting through voter ID laws and other means, the continued assault on abortion rights, the Citizens United unleashing of uncontrolled corporate-funded political elections, police assaults on unarmed black men, and other measures that threaten to turn back the clock while giving untold power once again to a well-healed oligarchy in the region and nation.

One of the many protesters who walked Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge last weekend was researcher Antoinette Harrell of the New Orleans area, an amputee who is missing part of one leg. She came to remind people of the sacrifice of Herbert Lee, a black farmer and activist from Amite County, Miss., who was murdered in 1961 for helping civil rights leader Bob Moses with voter registration efforts. A white state representative, E.H. Hurst, shot and killed Lee during an argument at a cotton gin. When Louis Allen, a black man, later reneged on his earlier statement that Hurst had acted in self-defense, he, too, was shot and killed.

“All Herbert wanted to do was vote,” Harrell said.

Selma was the epicenter of the civil rights movement a half-century ago when law enforcement authorities mercilessly beat peaceful protesters during a March 7, 1965, march. A federally protected second march on March 25 was successful as some 25,000 marched the roughly 50 miles to Montgomery along with leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and others. The event was vividly depicted in the recent Academy Award-winning film Selma.

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