When our friend Tammy planned the girls’ trip for Cleo, Sharon, Denise, Sheryl, and myself, I thought this is not a typical trip. It didn’t quite register as ‘normal.’ But “okay,” I said, “… let’s go to Selma, Alabama.”
On March 7, 2020, we set out for Selma to commemorate the 55th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” We took turns driving 14 hours and passed the time by catching up and delving deep into why our trip was necessary. We all hoped that bridging the past would help us deal with the present and strengthen us for the future.
When we arrived, we met Columbus Mitchell, publisher of the 55th Commemorative Bloody Sunday tour guide. He let us know that there are parts of Selma that look like a war zone and some that are beautiful. “Poverty is twin to injustice,” he said. “In Selma, children have guns but don’t have food. “This” he maintained, “was done by design.” I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. I’m not sure if it was for the past or the historic city’s current state.
Selma is one of 19 counties known as the Black Belt, for the rich, black soil. For hundreds of years, our ancestors’ toil of that black soil made white folks rich. There are a few black-owned businesses, but Selma, like much of America, can only boast of marginal success when it comes to black people. Black folk in Selma haven’t prospered as much as one would think, or as much as we should have. I say ‘should’ because this is where Bloody Sunday galvanized public opinion and sparked Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. In some respects, we had overcome! The discriminatory laws that kept us away from the polls were crushed under our boots.
But the trauma of oppression is still felt. Sarah Nash, a lifelong Alabaman, refused to walk across the bridge with us because of her fears. She said, “not much has changed for black people. We are still not treated right by some of the white folks.” My friends and I tried desperately to get Miss Sarah to join us, but she was having none of that. “Nothing but evil in that water and on that bridge,” she said.
We pressed on. When we approached the bridge, I felt a connection to people I had never met, people I read about. Along with my friends and a group of strangers, we walked in the footsteps of John Lewis, Hosea Williams, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Walking across the bridge, I looked into the murky Mississippi River. I was overwhelmed with thoughts of those lives lost, lives altered, and dreams deferred.
Later, eating the best soul food we’d ever had, we talked about how much inspiration we gained “walking in their steps.” We would return to our communities with a stronger sense of purpose. But we would also feel sad for people like Miss Sarah, who still feared the enemy. Sadness too for voter apathy, as many of us have given up on the electoral process. What steps could they take to become inspired? On their behalf, with thoughts of Selma on my mind, I proudly stepped into the voting booth on Tuesday, March 10th. And when I got my “I voted sticker-EARLY,” my girls’ trip officially ended.