Selma 50 Years After Bloody Sunday

Photo: April Ryan

Photo: April Ryan

By: April Ryan,

50 years to the day, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama was the backdrop of a country racially divided.  For this historic anniversary, the bridge stands as a beacon of hope for the scores of people who waited to hear President Obama’s reflections of the past, present, and the hope for tomorrow pertaining to healing racial divides in this nation.

Photo: April Ryan

Photo: April Ryan

One of the most poignant moments of the occasion came during the introduction of President Obama when civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, with high emotion, told the crowd of thousands he could have never imagined 50 years ago that he would be back on this bridge introducing the first black President.

50 years ago on Bloody Sunday, Congressman John Lewis was brutally beaten on that bridge as marchers non violently pushed for the right to vote.

Understanding the Civil Rights movement was the most successful movement in this nation, President Obama told the crowd that the movement was the blueprint for women rights, gay rights and so much more. At times the President sounded like a black minister quoting scripture, speaking of the past of all peoples in this country and describing the power of the word “we;” “We the people, We shall overcome, and Yes we can!”

Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes and his wife, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph - Photo: April Ryan

Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes and his wife, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph – Photo: April Ryan

Unfortunately, Selma continues to reflect the inequities 50 years ago. It is still a city struggling economically. Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes wants Americans to do better understanding that the “crew” who marched 50 years ago made an impact, but more work is needed. Hughes attended the event with his wife actress Sheryl Lee Ralph. Senator Hughes says, “That’s what are we fighting for when we vote. The same poverty that exists in Selma 50 years ago is the same poverty that exists in this same city today.”

Photo: Valerie Jarrett

April Ryan presents a question to President Obama during a reporter’s roundtable aboard Air Force One. Photo: Valerie Jarrett

Just hours before the his speech, President Obama held a historic interview with five black reporters in a conference room on board Air Force One. During this roundtable with the President, I asked the first question about his presidential legacy possibly becoming a marker as a new era in civil rights being called Post-Obama.

President Obama said, “There is no doubt my election was a significant moment in the countries racial history. If it hadn’t been me it would have been somebody else. I say it with all humility…a barrier was broken that legacy will continue in the minds of children who are growing up never having known to this point a president who was not black. I think that shapes attitudes…”

But, the President was clear saying, “I wouldn’t equate my election with seminal moments like the Emancipation Proclamation, or the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 64, or the Voting Rights Act of 65, those were massive changes in legal status that represented fundamental brakes with America’s tragic history, and, that were the the pillars of the 13th amendment, 14th amendment a Civil Rights Act of the 60s those represented the dismantling of formal discrimination in this country. There is nothing that will compare to that. Moving forward, our work is to build on that work, to fine tune that work where you see formal discrimination or state sponsored discrimination still occurring. But, increasingly our work has to do with dealing with ongoing legacy of a divided society closing the opportunity gaps, closing the achievement gaps, closing wealth gaps and inevitably that have been passed on from generation to generation because the gaps are so wide. And that involves no one piece of legislation. it requires a host of different efforts…”

Photo: April Ryan

Photo: April Ryan

Each of the five black journalists got one question with long answers. After the interview, all the reporters aboard Air Force One helicoptered out of Montgomery, Alabama and then traveled by motorcade to Selma. One of the most moving moments on the ride over was seeing the spontaneous crowds gathering on the sides of the street waving at the motorcade and then later, driving over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and seeing the crowds before us who were waiting to hear from President Obama.

Photo: April Ryan

Photo: April Ryan

Those of note attending yesterdays event, included President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Reverend Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, Bernice King, Former Clinton Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, Kevin Liles, Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Danny Glover.

More photos from the day>>




  1. ”People don’t listen: Because we have Black Voices’ said Esther Calhoun, 52, Calhoun will be commemorating the march on Saturday…When Esther Calhoun marches across the Edmund Pettus bridge this wekend; it will be for a right she says is more fundamental than the vote.”I want to breath clean air,” she said. Her home in Uniontown,30 miles west of Selma, is described by envioronmentalists as one of the most polluted, exploited and contaminated towns in Alabama, a state with notoriously lax environmental standards….Calhoun, 52-year-old mother of two, depicts the struggle against the 4 million tonne coal ash dump that has sprouted on the edge of town, and the raw sewage seeping into local streams, as modern day civil rights campaign”People don’t listen to us because we have Black Voices,”said Calhoun, who was born on a uniontown plantation three years before the ”Famed March” in Selma and picked cotton growing up.”Everyone says now we’re free” but I don’t think I’m going to be free until I’m dead….Television images of the crackdown on peaceful marches stunned America. It represented a watershed in civil rights history that paved the way, months later, for the Voting Rights Act….President Obama himself used an interview with Sirius XM Show Urban View on the eve of his speech in Selma to call on younger generations to adopt a broader’ interpretatioin of Civil Rights, viewing Immigration Reform and Same Sex Marriage as part of the same struggle.”When you think about the principle that was upheld that day, and in subsequent days, at The Edmond Pettus Bridge, it was the promise of an inclusive America,” he said on Friday”one of the great reasons that we celebrate that hey day of The Civil Rights Movements is that it didn’t just open up the doors for Black Folks” President Obama said.” It wasn’t just about Black Folks,” it was about America, and who we are ; and the legacy that then opened the doors for Americans with disabilities, Latinos Asian Americans, and Women.” Calhoun’s mobile home is right next to the train line that ferried coal ash from a power plant spill 300 miles away in Harriman Tennessee… By 2011, when the last of the coal ash had been shifted from Harriman, a town which is 90% White, to a landfill on the outskirts of Uniontown, which is 90% Black, it has formed the highest peak in Perry County….When the coal ash first arrived, residents complained of upper respiratory infections, nose bleeds and nausea. Scientists said they found evidence of arsenic leaking into local streams and residents closest to the landfill said paint was stripping off their cars….A Civil Rights Complaint against State Regulators, which granted the permit for the giant coal ash deposit, has been filed to The Environmental Protection by residents, with the help of the Non- Profit Group Earth Justice….A decision by the EPA’s Civil Rights Division is pending and, what ever happens, the coal ash mountain is not going away… It is one of several environmental problems afflicting Uniontown….Adam Johnson, a coordinator for Alabama Rivers Alliance, said thousands of gallons of under-treated and sometimes raw sewage flows into local streams each week, because the Residential Water Treatment Plant is overburdened by a catfish processing plant and a private prison….Yet they blame Local Black Officials for the pollution…And particularly the coal ash mountain, which poured ”money” into depleted coffers of Perry County.”We’ve been let down by our Black Leaders’ who got power,”said Calhoun.”The Local Officials most frequently blamed by locals is Albert Turner Jr., a County Commissioner who is trying to find ways to bring more, yet more coal ash to Uniontown….Turner is the son of Albert Turner Sr., A Civil Rights Hero who advised Dr. Martin Luther King and helped lead the Selma March….Alabama’s Supreme Court is taking a firm stand against gay marriage, barring Local Probate Judges from issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples…The tension between State and Federal Rulings has echoes of The Civil Rights Era….”Alabama rivals Arizona as one of the most Inhospitable States for Undocumented Workers.

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