From Alabama civil rights tribute, higher hopes for race relations
A gathering in Selma honored the gains of old – and registered new expectations for the Obama era.
(Page 2 of 2)
US Rep. Artur Davis (D) of Alabama, whose district includes Selma, said the events in and around the city 44 years ago, which began on "Bloody Sunday" and culminated two weeks later in a four-day voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, helped make Obama's successful run for the White House a reality. The march, led by Martin Luther King Jr., spurred Congress into passing the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson five months later.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Representative Davis says that, as for inflated expectations, the African-American community simply wants Obama to "serve well and be a good president." The Obama presidency, he says, is also about healing past wounds and moving on.
There were signs of both this weekend. At Selma's Brown Chapel AME, the person who introduced Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. was Peggy Wallace Kennedy, daughter of the segregationist Alabama governor of the 1960s, George Wallace Jr.
Her "words and life," Davis said, referring to her opposition to racial injustice and support for Obama as president, "have reflected what I have long believed: The true story of the civil rights movement is one of Americans working our way toward a sense of shared citizenship."
Also in Selma this weekend, Rep. John Lewis (D) of Georgia, who was beaten to within an inch of his life at the Edmund Pettus Bridge back in March 1965, said Obama's election has elevated the aspirations of African-Americans. But for him, Obama's victory is not the end. "It is a significant step down a very long road toward the creation of a beloved community," he said.
An activist in 1960s and beyond, Representative Lewis was attacked dozens of times by white supremacists. But no one had apologized for the acts of hatred or expressed regret – until now.
Attempting to enter the "whites only" section of the bus station in Rock Hill, S.C., in 1961, Lewis was beaten by a gang of white youths that included 25-year-old Elwin Wilson. Mr. Wilson, now 72 and still living in Rock Hill, has lately apologized to Lewis in an act of contrition motivated, he says, by Obama's election.
"That apology after all these years says something about the power of grace," Lewis said in Birmingham, on his way to Selma. "It says something about reconciliation, and it says something about forgiveness."