Sunday March 7th was the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. The Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast held in the Wallace Community College parking lot and a Slow-ride of over 200 cars across the bridge were the only in-person activities of the four-day Bridge Crossing Jubilee. The Unity Breakfast, which was held in a socially distanced way with people in their cars viewing the speakers on two large television screens, featured a host of speakers including President Joe Biden, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Mayor James Perkins, Martin Luther King III, Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Charles Steele, SCLC President, Jonathan Jackson representing his father Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and many others. Several persons received awards including Congressman James Clyburn, Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia and LaTosha Brown and Attorney Cliff Albright, co-founders of Black Voters Matter also made presentations. In his video comments, President Biden announced his plans to sign an Executive Order later in the day, making it easier to register and vote and mobilizing all Federal agencies to support voter registration and participation. Biden who had attended the Unity Breakfast in 2014, when he was Vice-President, said, “We must be vigilant or people will take our basic rights away. The Republicans have been chipping away at voting rights for many years. Now 256 measures have been introduced in 43 state legislatures to cut back and suppress the right to vote and make it difficult for people to vote.” Biden and other speakers promoted support for and passage of HR-1 “For the People Act” which will strengthen voting rights, make voter registration automatic and contains ethics provisions to reduce the influence of money in campaigns; and HR-4 “the John Lewis Voting Rights Act” which would restore Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, stripped out by the U. S. Supreme Court in Shelby vs. Holder, and again allow for Justice Department pre-clearance of state and local voting regulations. Congresswoman Terri Sewell said she was proud to stand on the shoulders of the many foot-soldiers that made the Civil Rights Movement and Voting Rights Movement a success. She said that she had just voted to approve the American Rescue Plan which will provide financial and healthcare benefits to the American people and mitigate the negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. “ I regret that this is our first celebration of Bloody Sunday without my friend and mentor, Congressman John Lewis, who passed in 2020. We must redouble our efforts to pass HR1 and HR 4 to honor his memory,” said Sewell. Sherrilyn Ifill with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said it was important to support HR-1, HR-4 and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, for criminal justice reforms. She suggested calling your Senators at 202-224-3121 (the U. S. Capitol switchboard) and urge them to vote for these important reforms. Cliff Albright in his remarks said, “The movement is not over. As we did in 1965, we must continue to do today.” He urged the crowd to “Push their U. S. Senators to end the filibuster, an undemocratic relic of slavery. We will not be able to pass HR-1, HR-4 and other critical legislation, as long as the 60 vote requirements of the filibuster remain in place.” LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said. “ I am a child of Selma. This community trained me and taught me to believe in the power of people and when people rise up they can make meaningful change.” Rev. Bernard Lafayette spoke to honor the contributions of civil rights leaders who had died in the past year: Dr. Joseph Lowery, C.T. Vivian, Congressman John Lewis, Attorney Bruce Boynton and Vernon Jordan. At the conclusion of the Unity Breakfast, about 200 cars, with their flashers on participated in a slow-ride across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the spot where marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday in 1965. A group of family members led by Rev. Lafayette said prayers and then placed wreaths at the Voting Rights Memorial Park on the eastern side of the bridge.
Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court Judge John H. England, Jr. will officially retire from his current judicial duties, Monday, January 18, 2021 after 27 years on the Judicial Bench as Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge and a member of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Judge England, who proudly claims his birthplace in the Alabama Black Belt, was born in Perry County (Uniontown) and attended public schools in Birmingham, AL. He is a 1969 graduate of Tuskegee Institute (University) with a BS Degree in Chemistry. In 1999, Tuskegee bestowed him with an Honorary Doctor of Law Degree.
England served two years in the U.S. Army as a Military Policeman and later graduated from the University of Alabama Law School in 1974, and began his law practice.
In reviewing Judge England’s preparations and achievements, it becomes apparent, that as an African American, he was the first or among the first in instances on his journey. He was the first in his family to attend college. He was a member of the first class of Blacks to enter the University of Alabama School of Law, graduating in 1974 and began his law practice in Tuscaloosa.
He takes a father’s pride and joy in the fact that he is the first African American UA Law School graduate to witness his three children, John H. England, III, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Northern District in Alabama, April England Albright, a Civil Rights Attorney in Atlanta and Chris England, Alabama State Representative and Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, also graduated from the UA Law School.
He and SCLC President, Charles Steele, were the first African Americans elected to the Tuscaloosa City Council in 1985. England served two terms and was Chairman of the Finance and Community Development Committee.
As he pursued his career as a young barrister, England was the first Black attorney to represent the Perry County School Board. He was the attorney for the Greene County Commission from 1981 until he assumed the Bench in 1993. He also represented the Greene County Racing Commission and the Town of Forkland and served as a part-time instructor at Miles College-Eutaw Extension. England often remarks that he got his gray hair in Greene County.
When he was appointed to the Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court in 1993 by Governor Jim Folsom, England became the first African American to hold a county-wide political office. He was re-elected to a full term in that office in 1994, where he served until he was appointed to the Alabama Supreme Court by Governor Don Siegelman in 1999, the third African American to hold such a seat. England returned to the Circuit Court of Tuscaloosa County in 2001 and has served continuously through his current retirement.
Judge England currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama and in 2019 was the first African American to have a dormitory on the University’s campus named for him (John H. England, Jr. Hall).
England is a graduate of the 1996 Leadership Alabama Class. He has also served as State President of Alabama New South Coalitions and in other leadership roles with ANSC.
In the course of this interview, Judge England noted that he is retiring from the bench, “ I am not retiring from giving whatever service I can wherever I feel I am needed and can contribute. I will take time to decide what I will do,” he said.
In his continuing reflections, England emphasized that he has learned much over the years. “I learned a lot about what passes for justice in our community. I’ve also learned there are things I have conveyed that I think have helped those who have come before me, such as clients, lawyers and judges, and I have learned a lot from them as well,” he stated.
England said he believes listening is a key to learning. “ I have come to value that you can learn something from any person, if you are listening. Many people who came before my court have later attested, ‘I was heard,’ including some individuals I had ruled against.”
In remarking on what he would have done differently, Judge England stated,” I can’t think of a particular thing I would have done differently. Even with the few times a higher court reversed a decision, I know I made the best decision I could with what was presented to me at the time. I can live with myself.”
By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher
Despite stormy weather, thousands attended the Bridge Crossing Jubilee, this past weekend in Selma, Alabama. Part a commemoration of the 54th anniversary of the March 7, 1965 “Bloody Sunday March for Voting Rights”; part a celebration of civil and voting progress in our nation; and part a recommitment to social change activism to correct voter suppression and bring more equity and dignity to the struggle for human rights in America.
The Jubilee was a combination of more than 40 events including workshops, a parade, a golf tournament; a unity breakfast, several award presentations, the “Foot Soldiers breakfast”, a beauty pageant, a mock trial, the “Freedom Flame dinner”, and the March re-enactment on Sunday afternoon.
Former Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders said at the opening Mass Meeting, at Tabernacle Baptist Church, on Thursday night, “the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee is the largest civil rights gathering in the nation, dedicated to furthering voting rights and human rights for people in our country and around the world.”
Sanders recalled that over 80,000 people attended the 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday in 2015, when President Obama attended and 110,000 people came to march that Sunday.
Attorney Faya Rose Toure (Sanders) who coordinates the Bridge Crossing Jubilee, said, “ We want to celebrate the courage of the people in the 1960’s who led the voting rights movement from Selma, but we must also recognize the current day’s rampant voter suppression in this country and the fact that Selma is the ninth poorest city in America with a high rate of crime and homicides.”
Faya Rose also pointed out that 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the enslavement of African people in north America, with the importation of twenty Black workers to the British colony at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. There was an event where 400 people lay down on the Edmund Pettus Bridge for 400 seconds to commemorate this anniversary. The lay-in was delayed by bad weather and a tornado warning but did take place before the larger crowd of thousands re-enacted the 1965 Bloody Sunday Voting Rights March. “We were beaten on the bridge in 1965 but we are lying down in 2019 and rising up to end voter suppression and lifting our voices and votes to change oppressive conditions for all people,” said Faya Rose Toure.
A highlight of the Jubilee was Sunday morning’s Unity Breakfast held at Wallace Community College in Selma. More than a thousand people attended to witness Hillary Clinton receive the International Unity Award, as well as to meet and listen to several Presidential candidates including Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown. The breakfast also heard greetings from civil rights leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. William Barber, Charles Steele and other local leaders like newly elected State Senator Malika Sanders Fortier and Congresswomen Terri Sewell.
In presenting the International Unity Award to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Hank Sanders said, “Secretary Clinton was elected President in 2016, but the election was stolen from her by the FBI reporting on her emails, the Russians hacking into the Democratic Party and sending false messages on social media. She deserves this award for standing up for women’s rights and human rights across the globe.”
Faya Rose Toure inducted Hillary Clinton into the Women’s Hall of Fame at the National Voting Rights Museum.
In her remarks, in accepting the awards, Clinton said, “ I am honored and humbled to receive these awards for my work for women, voting and human rights. But we have urgent unfinished work to protect fundamental rights, freedom of the press, and ending voter suppression. There is a crisis in this country and it is up to us to address it.”
“We must show up and vote every time in every election. We must di this step by step, year by year, door by door, to reclaim our democracy,” said Clinton.
In his remarks, Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition said, “ I must express my thanks to Faya Rose and Hank Sanders for keeping this Bridge Crossing Jubilee going year after year and to the people of Selma, the birthplace of modern democracy in America. Since the 2018 elections, we have 55 Black Congress-people, 38 Latino and Latinas, 20 Asian Americans and over 100 women. All of these people, and many more state and local public officials, owe their positions to the voting rights struggle in Selma in 1965. But Selma is still suffering with a 40% poverty rate. We need to push the government for a ’rural reconstruction plan and project in Selma and surrounding counties of the Alabama Black Belt’, just like we rebuild Europe with the Marshall Plan after World War II,” said Rev. Jackson.
By George E. Curry
ATLANTA – The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Atlanta-based civil rights organization co-founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has named its international headquarters at 320 Auburn Avenue, N.E. in honor of Charles Steele, Jr., its current president and CEO.
Steele, a former Alabama state senator from Tuscaloosa, AL served from 2004-2009 as its sixth president since the founding of SCLC in 1957. When he assumed office, the organization could not pay its utility bills and was nearly $2 million in debt.
Fred Shuttlesworth, the leader of the Birmingham, Ala. civil rights struggle and a former SCLC president, had written off his organization as dead, saying: “Only God can give life to the dead.”
When he took over, a confident Charles Steele answered that criticism directly, saying, “Well, I talked with God as well and he said he was not coming, but he sent me.”
And the record appears to support his godly assertion.
Steele said within three years, he had raised approximately $20 million – half in cash and the other half through in-kind contributions.
Having accomplished his primary mission, Steele decided to return to his life as a businessman in 2009. But his “retirement” would be short-lived.
In 2014, Steele was asked by the board of directors to give up his full-time private consulting business to return as president to an organization again on the verge of financial collapse.”Dr. Steele has returned as president because of a very important need at this point which is fundraising and fund development. That’s a primary responsibility of the president, and he has excellent skills and contacts in that arena to help us maintain our financial stability,” Board Chairman Bernard LaFayette, Jr. said at the time.
After Steele’s 5-year stint, SCLC went through a series of leadership changes. The charismatic president and fundraiser was succeeded by Rev. Howard W. Creecy, Jr., who served from 2009-2011, when he died accidently while still in office. Issac Farris Jr., a nephew of Dr. King, was dismissed in 2012 after serving less than a year as president. He was followed by civil rights icon Rev. C.T. Vivian, who agreed to serve on an interim basis until SCLC could select a new president.
For stability, SCLC turned again to a reliable face.
Steele, the only person who has ever served twice as president of the storied civil rights group, has been widely recognized for raising most of the $3.5 million to erect the 2-story building on Auburn Avenue and providing the leadership to resurrect the troubled organization.
The building, which opened in 2007, carries the official name: “SCLC International H.Q. – Charles Steele, Jr. Bldg.” A marker is prominently displayed above the front entrance of the building.
“Here is a president who, for the first time, made it possible for SCLC to own its own headquarters,” said LaFayette, the SCLC board chairman. “This is not just a building, it’s an international headquarters named to emphasize our international thrust.”
Steele said he was deeply touched by the decision to name the building in his honor.
“I could go on forever without the personal recognition,” he said in an interview. “But to put my name on the building gives respect to all of the people who supported me, especially my family. It’s a blessing from God and the expression of gratitude says that my work has not been in vain.”