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Selma marches, Bloody Sunday mark 50th anniversaries February 21, 2015

Posted by Tracy in : Civil Rights, Civil Rights travel , add a comment

Marchers walking in the rain in Montgomery during the Selma to Montgomery March (Courtesy Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Marchers walking in the rain in Montgomery during the Selma to Montgomery March (Courtesy Alabama Department of Archives and History)


My latest for USA Today, and one I really enjoyed doing. The best part was interviewing two heroes of the Civil Rights movement – Vera Booker and Gwen Patton, who put their bodies on the line time after time. Sad that 50 years later, people are still having to fight for the same things. But it feels good to take a moment, anyway, to appreciate the progress that’s been made.

by Tracy L. Barnett, Special for USA TODAY

Vera Jenkins Booker was the night supervisor on duty at Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma, Ala., the night Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot by an Alabama state trooper who followed him into a restaurant and shot him at close range as he tried to protect his mother and grandfather. The date was Feb. 18, 1965, and as those who have seen the movie Selma already know, it was the first in a chain of events that would focus the eyes of the world on the brutality of racism. The 26-year-old Baptist deacon was among those marching in the tiny town of Marion in protest of the discriminatory voter registration practices of the day; he had tried unsuccessfully to register for four years, and the struggle eventually cost him his life.

“He was in so much pain, and when I pulled up the shirt, that was when I saw a piece of gut the size of a small grapefruit,” Booker recalls. She tended the wound as they waited for the doctor. “I said, ‘You gonna be all right,’ and he kinda calmed down.”

She cared for him throughout the week, and through two surgeries. “He told me he was home from the service, and he said to me, ‘I got a little girl, and I’m going to marry her mother.’ I said, ‘That’s the thing to do, marry that little girl.’ I was sure he was going to live.”

His death eight days later was the match that ignited an already smoldering civil rights movement, kindling Bloody Sunday, the Selma to Montgomery marches, a summer of nonstop protest around the country, and in August, the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Those marches are the focus of an ambitious series of anniversary events in Selma and Montgomery that have already begun. At their peak, on the March 7 anniversary of Bloody Sunday, President Barack Obama is scheduled to make an appearance; other big names to help mark the event include Bernice King, who will be reading her father’s seminal “How long? Not long” speech from the statehouse steps on March 25 in Montgomery, at the same time and spot as her father did.

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