College sponsors trip to Selma for Bloody Sunday observance
March 16, 2015
Senior Kadeshia Brown stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., and was awestruck.
Stretched as far as she could see were tens of thousands of people who had traveled to Selma, just like her, to remember and honor the Civil Rights heroes who took a stand on that bridge 50 years ago.
"It was amazing to be there with everyone," she said. "I felt honored to pay homage to the activists who stood up for what they believed was right."
Kadeshia joined about 60 students, faculty, staff and community leaders from LaGrange who traveled to Alabama March 8 to take part in the Jubilee marking the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
On that day in 1965, peaceful Civil Rights protestors who were trying to march from Selma to Montgomery were met on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by hatred. They were attacked and beaten back by state troopers and local police, and more than 50 marchers were hospitalized.
Last weekend's events, which included a visit by President Obama, were designed to honor those trailblazers of the Civil Rights Movement.
Provost David Garrison accompanied the group and expressed his gratitude to President Dan McAlexander and Dean Marc Shook, who envisioned the trip.
"They first imagined LaGrange College's participation in the event, and understood its value in the history of the college," he said. "We were so fortunate to have Linda McMullen (Assistant Professor of Management) with us to give some historical perspective."
During the bus ride to Alabama, McMullen gave a 15-minute talk about the history of Selma and the state of affairs in 1965. Lindsey Elkins '10, Assistant to the Provost, said the information was invaluable.
"She talked about what life was like in Selma as a black American during that time," Elkins said. "She even passed around a sample questionnaire and 'Constitution test,' both given to blacks when they came to register to vote. The idea, of course, was that they would fail to properly answer the questions and then be refused the right to register to vote."
McMullen also offered some unsettling context.
"She told us that these foot soldiers were advised what to do 'when you get hit,' not 'if' you get hit," Elkins said. "They knew it was going to be ugly, and they knew they were going to get hurt. And they did it anyway. They were so brave."
Sophomore Wesley Dismuke said hearing about the experiences of people like John Lewis was a powerful reminder for his and future generations.
"Many people from my generation see Selma and other events from history as merely moments in the past, but the events in Selma should serve as lessons to future generations," he said. "I realized that many of the marchers would have given their lives in the spirit of social justice and human rights. I have developed a greater appreciation for past activists, and I also realize there is still work to be done."
Kadeshia compared today's methods of protest to those of 1965.
"When something like Ferguson happens today, people use a hashtag on Twitter and Facebook to raise awareness," she said. "Some people share the post and think they are taking action."
"But it takes more than that to make a difference," she continued. "Something has to be done. A hashtag doesn't put your life at risk. I can't imagine being on that bridge 50 years ago. Civil Rights activists risked so much to make the future brighter for others."
Dr. Laine Scott, Professor of English, also traveled to Selma. She said she was struck by the diversity and size of the crowd, which was estimated to be about 70,000.
"The participants near me were old enough to need wheelchairs and young enough to ride in strollers," she said. "I doubt that I've ever in my life been surrounded by so many people within such close quarters. But what made it bearable was the overall good nature of the crowd. Although these were ideal conditions for a stampede, everyone remained patient, polite and understanding."
McMullen said she was most struck by the bridge itself.
"Edmund Pettus is a relatively short bridge with a slight incline that initially prevented the marchers from seeing the troopers on the other side," she said. "I had an ache in the pit of my stomach imagining what those peaceful men and women must have thought and felt as they were attacked … just for protesting to earn a right that, based on the 15th Amendment, was already theirs."
For Elkins, the reaction of the younger participants was what moved her most.
"It was quite heartwarming to see how the students were moved," she said. "As we came down the other side of the bridge, I overheard two girls walking beside me. One said to the other, 'Is this where it happened?' and the other answered, 'Yeah, they were stopped right about here where we are right now, and it began.'
"That was so chilling to me," Elkins said. "I thought about how vulnerable I felt there on that bridge … anyone could have hurt me and I would have had no recourse. That's what they felt on Bloody Sunday. And that was just the beginning for them."
Senior Nicole Cato summed up the day.
"To be there and to see so many beautifully diverse faces and congenial souls gathered in one place for the cause of human equality for all was an awesomely unforgettable experience."