Spiver W. Gordon presents certificate to Rev. John Kennard, Guest Speaker at the 49th anniversary program. Several of the program participants joined them at the podium.
On Saturday, July 28, 2018, about 50 residents of Greene County, met at the Morrow-Brown Community Center in Branch Heights to celebrate the 49th anniversary of the July 29, 1969 Special Election. This election resulted in a victory for four African-American candidates for the Greene County Commission and two for the Board of Education, which meant Black control of county government for the first time since Reconstruction. The Special Election of 1969 was ordered by the U. S. Supreme Court in a case brought by Greene County indicating that local officials had deliberately left Black candidates supported by the National Democratic Party (NDPA) off the 1968 ballot. In the 1970 election, William M. Branch was elected Probate Judge and Thomas Gilmore was elected Sheriff of Greene County completing a sweep of almost all public offices in the county. The Greene County Special Election of 1969 was heralded as a great victory for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in an Alabama Black Belt county that contributed marchers to the ‘Bloody Sunday’ and subsequent marches in Selma. A New York Times headline on July 30, 1969 proclaimed: Election of 6 Alabama Negroes hailed as ‘Giant Political Step’. The Alabama Civil Rights Museum under the leadership of Spiver W. Gordon sponsored Saturday’s program, which included a display of photos, and programs from the museum’s collection. Rev. John Kennard was the Guest Speaker. Levi Morrow Jr. spoke about the origins and planning that went into the construction of Branch Heights. District 1 Commissioner Lester Brown and others made remarks to commemorate the occasion.
“This is not only a celebration and commemoration of the past but a continuation of the movement and a statement of the struggle for racial, social, political and economic justice that still face us,” said Faya Rose Toure on Sunday at the pre-march rally on the steps of Browns Chapel Church in Selma, Alabama.
There were 40 events during the March 3-7 weekend that comprise the Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma, to commemorate the 51st anniversary of the marches on Bloody Sunday and subsequent marches in 1965 which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.There was a Saturday breakfast to honor footsoldiers of the movement, a parade, a beauty pageant, a Sunday Unity Breakfast, Freedom Flame Banquet, golf tournament, numerous workshops and presentations on history and current struggles. At the Unity Breakfast, Congresswomen Terri Sewell presented a replica of the Footsoldiers Gold Medal, recently awarded by Congress to participants in the 1965 marches, to Hank and Faya Rose Sanders. The Sanders have developed the Bridge Crossing Jubilee and Museum over the past three decades to help people to understand the history of the voting rights struggle in America and continue to work to preserve these basic democratic rights for all people. They said they would place the medal on exhibit in the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma.
Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina was the keynote speaker at the Unity Breakfast. Clyburn said, “If we fail to learn the lessons of history, then they will repeat. We are seeing some similarities now in our Presidential election to the elections in Germany in 1932, when a demagogue was first elected to office and then became a fascist dictator.”
“Things that happened before can happen again. Things do not happen in a linear fashion. They go one way and then swing back another way. The people must be ready to intervene and participate in the process.
“Last year, we were here with a bi-partisan group of 100 Congress people and the President for the Fiftieth Anniversary but the Voting Rights Advancement Act has not had a hearing and not moved one inch since last year. People will show up for the celebration but not the work,” said Clyburn.
He urged the audience especially young people, not to give up. “Most of us have a resume which lists only the things that went right – not the times that things didn’t go as planned.
I ran for Congress, three times and lost. I did not win until the fourth time. Many people said three strikes and you’re out, but those are baseball rules. There are no numerical limits on trying in life,” said Clyburn.
The names of many young Black people killed by police in the past year came up as rallying calls for actions at various times during the weekend. The case of Gregory Gunn who was shot five times, last month, by police in Montgomery was mentioned in the criminal justice workshops. Rev. Kenneth Glascow of The Ordinary People’s Organization (TOPS) introduced the mothers of Christopher Jerome Thomas of Dothan, Alabama and Cameron Massey of Eufala, Alabama. Glascow led a “backwards march” across the bridge, before the larger march, to call attention to the inequities in the justice system and the unresolved pending cases of police violence and misconduct toward Black people.
In a Saturday workshop at the Center for Non-violence, Truth and Reconciliation, the speaker was Bryant Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative. He spoke about his life experience of working to represent and exonerate prisoners on death row in Alabama. He equated the current killing of young Black men with the prior era of lynching in the South between Reconstruction and the end of World War II. He said over 400 Black people were lynched around the South. His organization is in the process of placing historical markers at the places where these lynchings occurred.
On Sunday afternoon about 10,000 marchers, including a large contingent of members from Alabama Masonic Lodges and their auxiliaries participated in the reenactment march from Browns Chapel Church through Selma and across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. A post march rally was held in the Memorial Park on the east side of the bridge.