Special to the Democrat by John Zippert, Co-Publisher
The National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama, on August 6, 2022 sponsored a ‘Remembrance and Recommitment Ceremony’ for the 57th anniversary of the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The program included a slow-ride of about fifty vehicles from Browns Chapel Church, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to a rally on the eastern side in the Memorial Park. The rally stressed the importance of recommitting to voter registration, education, and involvement to overcome the efforts at voter suppression and gutting of the Voter Rights Act in recent years by the U. S. Supreme Court.
The rally ended with a litany dedicated to revitalizing the voting rights struggle and passage of the John Lewis Voter Advancement Act which has thus far been blocked in the U. S. Senate by a Republican filibuster.
The program then moved across Highway 80 to the National Voting Rights Museum Building for an afternoon of story telling by the veteran foot-soldiers who participated in the Selma Voting Rights Movement of the 1960’s and were part of the Bloody Sunday March in 1965.
Rev. Bernard Lafayette, a SNCC organizer who choose to come to Selma to work on voting rights in 1963 after the Freedom Rides and serving three weeks in the infamous Parchman Prison in Mississippi, said, “We started organizing young people because they were available and willing; they could not be fired from a job for agitating and marching because they didn’t have a job. We recruited in the high schools and held classes with young people on their rights, non-violence, and social change theory. When the time came, we had a ready group of people who were the key to the movement in Selma.”
Charles Mauldin, a teenager at 15, was one of the students that Rev. Lafayette reached in 1963 and 1964. He and other student leaders, Terry Shaw, Betty Fikes, and others started boycotting the schools and working for justice in Selma. “My parents were among the first to register to vote in Selma after 1965. They encouraged me and other young people to fight in the movement. It was not an option to be scared. We knew we were taking on the power of the State of Alabama, but we did what we had to do. Mauldin can be seen near the front of the 1965 march, in pictures of Bloody Sunday.
Jimmy Reynolds, another sixties foot soldier said, “I had trouble at first with non-violence. I was not going to turn away when I was hit but after attending mass meetings with my aunt, I joined the movement. I was part of the strategy committee. Dallas County Sheriff, Jim Clarke arrested us in 1963 demonstrations and took us to three jails. We wound up at Camp Camden for about three weeks.
Betty White Boynton, wife of Bruce Boynton and daughter-in-law of Amelia Boynton Robinson, who invited Dr. King to Selma, said she was active as well as a teenager in 1963-65. “I was arrested several times and went to Camp Selma on Highway 80. The conditions were not suitable for human beings, but we kept on working for change,” she said. On Bloody Sunday, she came to Brown’s Chapel at the end of the march to assist people who were beaten and teargassed.
Dr. Joe Reed, head of the Alabama Democratic Conference and state Black teachers’ association said he started activities in his home county of Conecuh and was a student sit in leader at Alabama State in the 1960’s. He participated in the founding meetings for SNCC. By 1965, he was already leading the Black teachers in the state, and he helped Rev. Fred Reese and Marie Foster to help teachers who were involved in the movement.
Two sisters from Marion, Alabama, Margaret, and Jeanette Howard, also gave testimony on the fatal shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson, by a state trooper, while he was protecting his grandfather from attack by the police in February 1965, in the Perry County seat of Marion, Alabama. Both sisters were recruited out of high school by Albert Turner, legendary SCLC Alabama State Director. Both sisters said they were on the bridge on Bloody Sunday.
Margaret said, “I could run a little faster than my sister, so I was not beaten. But we both went to Camp Selma. We had grits for breakfast, bologna sandwiches for lunch, and peas for dinner. It was a pretty tough place to be for teenagers.”
The program concluded with young people placing medals of achievement around the necks of the foot soldiers to honor them for their courage and bravery in the battle for civil and voting rights.