Most Americans know about the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famed “I Have a Dream” speech. But another march was known to be just as important.
Saturday, March 7, marks the 50th anniversary of the day more than 600 peaceful protesters were stopped at the Edmund Pettus Bridge during a march from Selma to Montgomery, then beaten and tear-gassed by Alabama State Troopers and Klu Klux Klansmen. It was dubbed “Bloody Sunday,” and footage from the 1965 peaceful protest–turned–violent attack was an important factor in convincing lawmakers to pass the Voting Rights Act later that year.
Looking back today, New York–based public speaker and activist Feminista Jones told TakePart that she learned a lot from the Selma marches.
“You have to have a plan and a vision—things are not happenstance,” Jones said. “Not everyone is going to be a leader and organize something to that magnitude—some people are on the ground, the ‘worker bees.’ Everyone has a different, important role, but it’s key to be able to organize and move together.”
The Selma marches have risen in the public’s consciousness, in part thanks to the success of the Oscar-nominated 2014 film of the same name produced by Oprah Winfrey.
This year, a remembrance and commemorative march will draw leaders to the town, including President Barack Obama. An official commemorative march across the bridge will take place on Sunday as well.
“Places like Selma are all over the country,” Jones said, citing hot spots of racial strife such as Detroit and Ferguson. “This country is really struggling to reconcile with its own past. And because of that, we’re not attacking the right issues. This fight has been going on for 50 years, and it will continue to go on for another 50 if we don’t change.”
Jones believes it is imperative to be inclusive about all people—not just in terms of race, gender, or sexual identity. For Jones, the change begins with teaching children, from a young age, that being different is OK.
“It’s all about culturally confident education,” she said. “We have to teach them who they are and where they came from. Then these kids can go into the community and support the initiatives that already exist, and create legislation from those initiatives. Those are the next steps.”
Knowing the future is impossible without knowing the past. Here are some must-see images from the 1965 marches.