'Bloody Sunday' Remembered in Selma
Activists did a ceremonial crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge where, on March 7, 1965, Alabama state troopers assaulted 600 peaceful demonstrators with clubs, tear gas and horses.
"Bloody Sunday," as it became known, led to passage of the Voting Rights Act and the date has been commemorated in one form or another each year since.
Gov. Robert Bentley helped kick off Sunday's busy schedule at a unity breakfast at Wallace Community College, where Alabama's top Republican was warmly greeted by state Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma, one of the state's top Democrats.
"(Bentley) has a good heart (and) is concerned about those who have been left out," said Sanders, who noted that he has seen several blacks appointed to important positions in the new governor's administration.
Such was not the case in the administration of Bob Riley, Bentley's Republican predecessor, Sanders said.
Bentley said his decision to name Hugh McCall the state's first black full-time director of the state Department of Public Safety had nothing to do with trying to look good with Alabama's black population.
"He was chosen by me not because of his color, but because of his outstanding leadership," Bentley said, to applause from hundreds gathered.
During his comments, Bentley said he told Sanders prior to last year's gubernatorial election that he had "less than a 25% chance" of succeeding Riley "but I told (Sanders) that if I did win, 'I want to work with you.'"
As the breakfast was wrapping up, Selma's biggest black churches were preparing to welcome prominent speakers at Sunday morning services.
Brown Chapel AME Church, Selma's most famous black house of worship, attracted several of the country's most important politicians.
U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, a black Democrat from South Carolina and his party's No. 3 in the House, delivered the sermon at Brown Chapel, but his introduction may have been more important than his comments.
It came from U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, who grew up in Selma and became the first black woman elected to Congress in Alabama history.
What made it even sweeter for Sewell was the fact that she also grew up at Brown Chapel where her mother, Nancy, beamed in a pew not far away.
Well aware of the history she has made and the congressional company she now keeps, Sewell flashed a big smile and said: "Now I get to call them colleagues. God Bless America."
A large delegation of national leaders attended ceremonies over the weekend including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
In years past, Democrats had a field day castigating Republican presidents, especially George W. Bush who became a favorite verbal target at Brown Chapel services.
Sunday's services were, for the most part, more religious than secular, and political rhetoric seemed toned down.
John Zippert, a Greene County newspaper publisher and an official with a Southern farming cooperative, said concern today is centered more on unemployment, wages and health care, but that should change soon.
"Now that the stimulus program is over, budget cuts will hit hard, especially in poorer counties," Zippert said. "Food stamps are still there, but if the Medicaid budget is cut they will put black and white people out of the nursing homes. It doesn't make sense."
Alabama Democratic Conference director Joe Reed indicated that excitement generated by recent Jubilee speakers is a thing of the past — at least for now.
"Back in '07 we had (Barack) Obama and (Hillary) Clinton both here at the same time," Reed said. "I'm sure things will pick up when the next presidential election rolls around."