Selma, Alabama — Take a ride down Broad Street in Selma, and history will greet you nearly every block.
There’s commemorative museums in both directions, old businesses and other reminders that Selma has a remarkable place in American history.
Civil rights organizers led a series of marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 to protest discriminatory practices against blacks and lack of voting rights.
One march became known as ‘Bloody Sunday,’ because Alabama state troopers beat protesters with billy clubs and unleashed tear gas to force them to disperse.
Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia) was among the hundreds of marchers 45 years ago and returned to Selma recently to celebrate the progress his generation made possible.
“It is very moving and very emotional to be standing here 45 years later,” said Lewis, who was among those beaten after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. “I never imagined we’d have the nation’s first African-American president…that there would be blacks holding powerful political positions here in Selma.”
Lewis, who traveled to Selma with a group from the Faith and Politics Institute based in Washington, D.C., cautioned those gathered not to overlook Selma’s current economic struggles.
“The economic condition in Selma has not changed that much,” Lewis said. “Like so many other parts of America, there’s a lack of jobs. This town needs to be uplifted.”
Some visitors in town for the ‘Bridge Crossing Jubilee’ said Selma’s place in history is stronger than ever.
Others said it’s the town’s people which make Selma special.
“It’s such a ‘homey’-type feel when you come here,” said David Ealy, whose wife was born and raised in Selma. “It’s great you can come [to Selma] and celebrate all of this history.”
Woodrow Fletcher, 77, has lived in Selma his whole life. He said his hometown is still in need of jobs, but residents need to be patient.
“The rest [of the country is] suffering too,” Fletcher said. “But here, at least [blacks] know they can go [anywhere] they want…and do [whatever] they please. It’s a lot better now than it was.”