The Common Good took a small delegation to Selma, Alabama for the 50th Anniversary of the historic March on Selma. We are proud that our group was able to participate in the incredible weekend honoring the now unforgettable march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many of you have probably seen the Oscar-nominated film, Selma, but our group was lucky enough to retrace some of the courageous steps of the civil rights movement and the march that changed the righted so many wrongs.
Our journey began in Birmingham, with a tour of the city’s civil rights sites and, later, TCG members dined with a very special guest: Sarah Collins Rudolph. Rudolph was only 12 years old standing next to her sister in the 16th Street Church at the time of its horrific bombing by white supremacists in 1963. Sarah’s sister, Addie Mae, was one of the four children who died in the bombing. Sarah suffered grievously with the loss of her eye and other injuries that kept her hospitalized for months. Though emotionally scarred, Sarah was brave enough to share her story with our group.
On Saturday we made our way to Selma. From our sun-drenched seats close to President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, with a view of the bridge as a backdrop, we listened to President Obama’s speech and were able to greet various leaders and civil rights figures of the past and present including Congressman John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Amelia Boynton, and Kevin McCarthy. We then enjoyed a lunch hosted by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund at the Brown Chapel AME Church. On Sunday morning we stopped at Brown Chapel where Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Al Sharpton, Sean Donovan, and Sherilynn Ifill were speaking. We then took a brief tour of Montgomery, stopping at the First Baptist Church, site of Freedom Riders meetings during the Montgomery bus boycott sparked by Rosa Parks’s civil disobedience, and at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, a historical landmark in which Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor and where he helped to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
While each and every member of our group contributed to the overall experience, we owe a special debt to our Event Chair, Charles Atkins, who treated us with lunch at Brown Chapel; set up our participation in Saturday’s dinner honoring Jesse Jackson, Dorothy Cotton, Danny Glover and others; and organized as best as one could to provide access to the church service on Sunday in Selma. Special thanks to Patricia Duff for getting tickets from the White House for the President’s speech and for setting up our meeting with civil rights activists: songwriter Mike Stoller (Stand By Me, On Broadway, and many others hits) and storied jazz musician Corky Hale Stoller. Another “Thank you” to Jerry Leichtling.
And very special thanks to our staff, particularly Serena Sharma, for setting up much of the details and logistics, and to Joel Strauss for keeping us on the road in Alabama.
Our trip to Selma was a powerful reminder of the sacrifices and struggles for millions of Americans to gain rights easily taken for granted by others. There are many bridges to cross to guarantee all Americans their full rights and freedoms, but we will always remember Selma.