This weekend, thousands of people are expected to travel to Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Edmund Pettus bridge crossing (Bloody Sunday) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
From Hollywood to the White House, celebrities and dignitaries plan to make the journey to the small town that changed America’s Civil Rights history. At a press conference at the White House Feb. 26, Obama announced that he and the first family would make the journey to Selma for the events.
“Michelle and I and the girls will be traveling to Selma to pay tribute — not just as a President or a First Lady or as African Americans, but as Americans — to those who changed the course of history at the Edmund Pettus Bridge,” he said.
Former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura, along with at least 90 members of Congress are expected to make the pilgrimage. According to the celebration committee, a large bipartisan group of elected officials plan to attend a number of events including the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee festival and workshops on Saturday, as well as the official march reenactment festivities slated for Sunday.
“It’s an incredible gift to have access to the people that will be in Selma next weekend,” said Jessica Norwood of Mobile. Norwood is the executive director of The Emerging ChangeMakers Network, an organization dedicated to working with inspiring leaders and creating innovative ideas that address issues of economic inequality.
Norwood attends commemorative events in Selma annually, hosting and organizing a number of workshops. But this year, she said, is going to be special.
“There are so many lessons to be learned in Selma,” she said. “We need to hear from the heroes that were there and learn what worked and what didn’t. I am so looking forward to sharing those conversations.”
Norwood said she hopes people will leave energized and anxious to take with them strategies that will help advance their communities.
The Emerging ChangeMakers Network is a nonprofit that will host the Selma Leadership Summit Saturday at the Selma Public Library. Registrants from Nashville, New Orleans, Jackson, Mississippi, Atlanta and all over Alabama will travel to Selma to participate in the three-day celebration.
The Emerging ChangeMakers Network invites the public to share in their conversations over the weekend by following the hash tag #myselma on Facebook and Twitter. Visit their website at www.emergechange.org to learn more.
“Yes it will be crowded, overwhelming and exciting,” Norwood added. “But, I’m looking forward to seeing all the people. When folks show up in Selma it shows me that these things still matter.”
Melvin Howard of Mobile said he is also looking forward to the atmosphere and the symbolic message that the festivities will represent.
“I expect it to be a great bonding experience,” said Howard, president of the Rho Alpha Grad Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
Howard and many of his fraternity brothers will travel from Mobile to Selma on Sunday to participate in the rallies and the march across the Pettus Bridge.
“We had to be a part of this 50th celebration,” he said. “If for no other reason, just to acknowledge the struggle and sacrifices that were made for us to have the privileges we have today.”
Since the fraternity’s inception, it has always participated in the Civil Rights movement, according to Howard. He added that his fraternity began making plans last year to attend the Bloody Sunday commemoration. The group’s 56-passenger bus to Selma is filled.
“It’s a part of our history,” said David Daniels of Mobile. Also a member of the Rho Alpha Chapter of Omega Psi Fraternity, Daniels said he couldn’t imagine not making the trip. “Being a child of the 1960s I have to be there.”
Daniels said he remembers the stories told to him by elders and seeing some things on television. He said that the bus trip and walking across the bridge will recreate the nostalgia of it all.
“I have to tell my sons and others that I was there, at the 50th celebration. They need to know that it’s important to me,” Daniels said.
The significance of the 50th year commemoration of Bloody Sunday appears to matter to many in Mobile — from churches and civic organizations, to social groups and even labor unions — all which have made plans to make the journey to Selma next weekend.
The Teamsters Union Local 991 in Mobile confirmed President David Smith will be in Selma to join representatives from Teamster Locals across the state.
In a press release on the International Brotherhood of Teamsters website, International Vice President and Chairman of the Teamsters National Black Caucus, Al Mixon, said the Teamsters National Black Caucus along with the Teamsters Human Rights Commission, have organized workshops in Selma and will participate in a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Bloody Sunday and the Voter’s Rights Movement holds a special place in the heart of the Teamster Union, which claims civil rights martyr Viola Liuzzo as one of their own.
Liuzzo, the wife of a Teamster, was murdered in a car on an Alabama highway because she gave a ride to a 19-year-old black protester, Leroy Moton, during marches from Selma to Montgomery. Liuzzo’s story was told in the epic feature film “Selma, ” released late last year.
Mixon said, “as Teamsters, we are honored to be part of black history. It’s not just something we celebrate. It’s who we are.”