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On Sunday March 8th, 2009, thousands gathered in Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 44th Anniversary of the March across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that resulted in the beatings of civil rights demonstrators by the Alabama state troopers, and the brutal beating of Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and John Lewis, Chairman of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It was this incident that led Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Selma and lead the historic Selma-to-Montgomery March, protesting the voting rights denial of African-Americans, and it was this vicious act that was largely responsible for passing the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
This particular celebration struck me as more moving than the typical noteworthy anniversaries I have attended for many years because, across from where I sat in the pulpit was Eric Holder, the first African-American Attorney General to the United States, diagonally sitting across Peggy Wallace Kennedy, daughter of Governor George Wallace, the Governor in charge of the Alabama troopers involved in the beating, and the sole person who attempted to stop desegregation by standing in front of the University of Alabama entranceway to prevent two Black students from entering.
As God would have it, one of the two Black students was a female named Vivian Malone Jones. Vivian Malone Jones' sister in Mobile, Alabama, would grow up to marry Eric Holder.
For Eric Holder to be sitting there as the nation's first Black Attorney General, to be the brother-in-law of the young Black girl who was blocked by a Governor yelling "Segregation now, segregation forever!", and to have that Governor's daughter seated in the pulpit, and later, march arm in arm with now Congressman John Lewis, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and myself across the Edmund Pettus Bridge 44-years later, shows the vindication of history and the victory that comes from struggles we engage ourselves in.
No one fights more on a daily basis than I do to continue to address the institutional inequities and systemic racism that still exists today, but sometimes we need to pause and remind ourselves that we fight not in vain, but because it is right. Nothing made that clearer to me than personally watching that scene on Sunday, March 8th. Sometimes, we take for granted things that happen in our lives that couldn't have happened in the lives of our parents our grandparents. To do that is to lead towards cynicism and doubt because when one realizes the struggle reaps victories, it should energize one to continue those struggles and to continue those victories.
I was only ten-years old when the original march in Selma took place on March 7, 1965. But because others like Hosea Williams and John Lewis were there 44-years-ago, I can march across that same bridge today and not worry about being attacked by troopers since the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in the country was an African-American from New York just like me, and the daughter of the Governor in charge of the troopers was holding our hand singing "We Shall Overcome."
I only hope that 44-years from now my children and their children can say of our generation and of me that we made the unbelievable become reality like John Lewis and Josea Williams and others have done for us. They learned that the struggle is hard but the victory is certain.