"I Am, Because We Are, Because Selma Was": Voices From Historic Bloody Sunday March

March 10, 2015

Up to 80,000 marched in Selma, Alabama, on Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. On March 7, 1965, hundreds of peaceful voting rights activists were brutally attacked by Alabama state troopers, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery in a voting rights protest. Bloody Sunday was the first of three attempted marches, finally completed under federal protection and led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on March 24. The protests helped bring about the 1965 Voting Rights Act. We spoke to marchers on Sunday as they crossed the bridge.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Upwards of 70,000 to 80,000 people marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday. Here are a few more of their voices.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, 50 years after Bloody Sunday, when hundreds of people marched for voting rights, and they were beaten down by Alabama state troopers. Today, the largest crowd this bridge has ever seen. Tens of thousands of people are here to remember and call for change today. Among them, well, can you tell me your name?

KIMBERLY BELL: Yes, my name is Kimberly Bell, and I represent the historical Stone Street Baptist Church, the oldest Baptist church in the state of Alabama. We were founded in 1806, and before the state was, we were.

AMY GOODMAN: And who are these people with you today?

KIMBERLY BELL: This is the Youth Department. Kristen Bell.

RAE BELL: Rae Bell.

KENNEDY JENKINS: Kennedy Jenkins.

SHARION WHITE: And Sharion White.

AMY GOODMAN: And how old are you?

RAE BELL: I’m nine, and my name is Rae Bell.

AMY GOODMAN: And why are you here today?

RAE BELL: I’m here to march across the bridge, because in remembrance of my people.


AMY GOODMAN: What is your name?

DONNA THURMAN: My name is Donna Thurman.

AMY GOODMAN: And why are you here today?

DONNA THURMAN: I’m here because—

UNIDENTIFIED: You prepared this on the bus.

DONNA THURMAN: Because I wanted to—I wanted to be where they were. I wanted to feel it. And I am. I have. Fifty years later, I have. Ah, what a feeling. What a feeling. I can’t imagine how it was 50 years ago. I just cannot imagine. If it’s like this for me now, what was it for them? I thank them so much. It was such an honor, such an honor. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell me your names and where you’re from and what you’re doing on Edmund Pettus Bridge?

ISABELLE DOLL-NGCOBO: My name is Isabelle Doll-Ngcobo, and I’m from South Africa. And we are here with Soweto Street Beat. I am the artistic director for the company, and we are here to come and celebrate and commemorate the 50th anniversary for Bloody Sunday.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re here all the way from South Africa?

ISABELLE DOLL-NGCOBO: We are based in Atlanta, and we are here with all our South African Zulu drummers and dancers.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the connection?

ISABELLE DOLL-NGCOBO: For Nelson Mandela having had to go through the same thing in South Africa fighting for freedom and for equal rights, we feel a very strong connection. And we know Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela had similar values, because they were both—they both studied Gandhi. So that is a really strong connection. And for me, coming from South Africa, and my husband being from Soweto, from the same street of Nelson Mandela, two houses from him, this is really a big deal for us.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re walking over the Edmund Pettus Bridge right now, that spans the Alabama River. Edmund Pettus, the man for whom this bridge is named, is a former U.S. senator. He’s a former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and a Confederate general. The bridge still bears his name today.

DJ REBELLION: I’m DJ Rebellion. I’m from Oakland. I live in Atlanta. My sign says, "I am, because we are, because Selma was." I came out here today really to bring my daughter out, so she’ll have a stronger connection to this history. And I’m just really excited to be here, you know, to be a part of history today.

DJ REBELLION’S BROTHER: This is my brother. Hold on. I want to say one thing. This is my brother. He’s also an artist. And he started a new movement, and the concept is, in Georgia, about to pass legislation that says you cannot take down a monument unless you replace it with an equal monument. But my whole thing is this, is the movement is called DHD, "Don’t Honor Devils." Now, this dude was a KKK member.

AMY GOODMAN: "This dude" being?

DJ REBELLION’S BROTHER: I don’t want to say his name. It’s like—it tastes bad in my mouth.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s radio also, so—

DJ REBELLION’S BROTHER: OK. Say, what’s that dude’s name, Charlie?

DJ REBELLION: It’s this devil named Andrew [sic] Pettus.


DJ REBELLION: This clown. Yeah, Edmund Pettus.

DJ REBELLION’S BROTHER: We don’t even—our father was a Black Panther. And my whole thing is, look, I respect history, and I love history, and I don’t have no problem with history. But there’s no—there is no bridge in Germany called the Adolf Hitler Bridge. I guarantee you that right now. So if you’re going to be the grand dragon of the KKK, you don’t deserve to have a bridge named after you. It’s not right. We don’t like that. We don’t like that.

AMY GOODMAN: And what’s your name?

REGGIE HARRIS: My name is Reggie Harris.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet your sign—your ID says Selma Planning Team member, Living Legacy Project Board.


AMY GOODMAN: What’s Living Legacy?

REGGIE HARRIS: Living Legacy is a group of people who have come together to do pilgrimages, bringing people into the South, to Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, to give them an experience of the civil rights movement. We go into communities, and we talk to them, communities like Selma and Marion, Alabama, all the way to Oxford, Mississippi.

AMY GOODMAN: So tell us about this.

REGGIE HARRIS: This bridge is—you know, this is history. This is legacy. I am just so astonished to be here again. One of the things we do on our pilgrimage, we walk across this bridge. We tell the story of the people that came over that day. And as they reach the crest, where we pretty much are now, coming over and not knowing what was going to happen, that they reached the crest, and they saw that line of blue down there, and they knew they were in trouble, but they didn’t realize that the police were going to beat them, not only at the bottom of the bridge, but beat them all the way back across the bridge into the neighborhoods. Those are the stories we get to tell them and share with them. We let the people in the communities tell their own stories. And it’s changed my life, really. I’m a musician, and I share the stories and the songs of the civil rights movement. But it’s those stories of the people who were on this bridge that day that are really important.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a few of the more than 70,000, perhaps 80,000, perhaps more. The Edmund Pettus Bridge has never seen as many people at once, not to mention Selma, Alabama, itself, as we go to break with Reggie Harris.


AMY GOODMAN: That’s Reggie and Kim Harris leading marchers they knew and didn’t know, singing "O Freedom" on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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