Thursday, March 26, 2015

Trayvon Martin, a tragic event

(This entry was first written last June, but for reasons I have forgotten, I failed to publish it then.)

I admit I haven't been keeping up with the case closely. I was not there; I don't know the details and I did not hear the evidence presented to the jury. 

I will say I was saddened that a man could shoot and kill an unarmed teenager and leave the court a free man. He may have thought he was shooting in self defense, but he did fail to follow police orders to stay in his car and let them (police) handle the situation. I believe George Zimmerman should be held accountable. 

There are pictures and stories going around the internet that show Trayvon Martin as practically a gangster, with dreadlocks and a history of drug use and dealing. I don't know what's truth and what's rumor. I do know that it is not against the law for a teenage boy to walk from the store to his father's house, even if his hairstyle is dreadlocks and his clothing choice was a hoodie.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Thoughts on 50th anniversary of Voting Rights March

Bridge crossing sculpture
(One of three artworks in Montgomery, Alabama commissioned to honor the Voting Rights Marches of 1965)

This month we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

There were three marches; the first took place on Sunday, March 7, 1965. John Lewis and Hosea Williams led a few hundred civilians from a Selma church, Brown Memorial AME Chapel, to the Edmond Pettus Bridge, with the intention of crossing the Alabama River and marching to Montgomery, the state capital, for the purpose of demonstrating the injustice of being denied equal right to vote. They were met by Alabama State Troopers who demanded that they turn back and return to the church. Before they could respond, the troopers began beating them with billy clubs, spraying them with tear gas, and running into them on horseback. It was a dreadful scene; photos appeared in newspapers nationally and on TV news. Later, this event became known as "Bloody Sunday." It is a miracle that no one was killed, but several were severely injured.

Video from Los Angeles Times

The second march took place two days later. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a group of pastors from around the country. They marched to the bridge, prayed, and turned back to the church when met by troopers.

Meanwhile, the Federal court issued an order that the peaceful march would be allowed, and the marchers would be escorted and protected by federal militia. On March 21, the third march began in Selma, which is in Dallas County, through Lowndes County, and into Montgomery County and the city of Montgomery, Alabama, a trip of 54 miles. Twenty-five thousand people arrived in front of the state capitol on March 25 to hear a stirring speech by Dr. King. The Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress and signed into law on August 6, 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

(Along the way, the marchers, 300 strong, marched in the rain and camped in muddy fields. Their final campsite was on the grounds of the City of St. Jude in Montgomery, an organization of the Roman Catholic Church which at that time included a school and a hospital. Now it is used for social services and has apartments for senior adults on the grounds. The photo above is of one of the three sculptures in Montgomery commemorating the marches. This sculpture is on the campus of St. Jude.)

Mural commemorating Selma Bridge Crossing
(This mural is on a building on Montgomery Street, downtown Montgomery, AL.)

The third Voting Rights March sculpture
(This sculpture is in the center of an intersection near downtown Montgomery called Five Points, at the intersection of Montgomery Street, Clayton Street, Mobile Street, and Goldthwaite Street. I couldn't find it until several weeks after I wrote this entry, and am editing it to include the photo.)

About the Civil Rights sculptures “The one at the City of St. Jude,” said Barrett Bailey, “will be made to look weathered and rusted. It's meant to show the difficulties and struggles the marchers faced. As people make their way closer to the State Capitol, the other one will be shiny. It's meant for people to be able to see their reflection, to see themselves in the footsteps of the marchers.”

Eyes on the Prize, from Public Television's American Experience
Selma to Montgomery Marches, Wikipedia article

What has changed in fifty years? We are very different; because of the struggle for civil rights and subsequent legislation to ensure it, Americans of all races and colors now attend school together and hold jobs in every sector. Americans of every race and color are elected to public office and hold high and not-so-high positions in local, state, and federal government.
However, there is still a great deal of poverty and crime, and educational skills are generally lower among African Americans than among whites. The public schools have been desegregated, but resegregated by default as many white parents have moved out of cities into suburbs (although with equal housing, wealthier African Americans can also move) or are enrolling their children into private schools (which do accept children of color, but there are few of them). So, instead of white and "colored" public schools, many areas have predominantly black inner city schools and predominantly white private and suburban schools. Recent incidents throughout the nation show that prejudice and discrimination still exist, not only in the south but nationwide. We still have a long way to go.

There has been some talk in favor of changing the name of the Edmond Pettus Bridge. Edmond Pettus was a Brigadier General in the American Civil War for the Confederacy and later became a leader in the Ku Klux Klan. Many feel that his name should not be honored along with those who suffered for the cause of equal rights for all. I say that the name "Edmond Pettus" no longer stands for hatred and bigotry, but for freedom and justice. I daresay that most Americans today, when we hear the name "Edmond Pettus Bridge," think of Bloody Sunday, the Selma to Montgomery March, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.