On Sunday, March 4, I made my first trip to Selma, Alabama, to participate in the annual Freedom March across the Edmund Pettus bridge, in memory and in tribute to those who made that terrible but historic walk 53 years ago. I arrived in time to attend service at beautiful St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where I was warmly welcomed. Then I headed downtown to join the steadily growing crowd, and in doing so I met some fascinating people.
First, I met Lynda Blackmon Lowery, who at age 14 had already been arrested and jailed nine times, and was the youngest person to cross the bridge on “Bloody Sunday”. She was severely beaten in the cloud of tear gas – it took 28 stitches to close one of her head wounds. But she still made the march to Montgomery two weeks later – and turned 15 years old along the way. Today, Mrs. Lowery is a loving and gracious lady who works at a mental health center, and I will always cherish my signed copy of her book Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom.
Next, I met a lady named Robyn from Cleveland and her recently-graduated son Robert, who were in the middle of a mother-son road trip. Like me, they were in Selma for the first time. I shared with them a bit about my spiritual journey in prison ministry and racial reconciliation, and Robyn told me about her role in a fascinating organization. Facing History and Ourselves is an international non-profit that enables teachers to engage students in an examination of injustice and to become more informed and humane citizens. Robyn and I felt an immediate bond, and we will stay in touch!
Then on my way across the bridge, I met the “Gentleman in the Pink Suit”. He really was wearing a pink and white pinstriped suit, and he was sitting in a lawn chair on the bridge’s narrow sidewalk. When I asked him if I could take his picture, he just laughed and said “You go right ahead – I’m just happy to be sitting here on this bridge on this day.”
Finally, I followed “IverBrazil” a highly energetic Latino dance-and-drum group, who lifted our spirits as we marched in memory of those who suffered on That Day.
During my three hour drive home to Foley, I reflected on my experience in Selma – and frankly, it wasn’t what I had expected. I didn’t go to the Baptist church to hear all the “official” speeches. I didn’t lock arms with rows of people in a solemn procession, singing “We Shall Overcome”. Instead, the bridge walk was quite disorganized and spontaneous, perhaps reflective of the character of our nation. And in the midst of it all, I was able to glimpse into the hearts and lives of a few people who had joined me on the Pettus Bridge.
And I confirmed my perception that yes, there are still incredible and unacceptable injustices in our nation, and yes, we all must take part in meeting the challenges before us. But I also discovered that there are ordinary people in the crowd who are doing things that are bringing peace and laughter and hope into our world. Just regular people, serving others and Our Lord in their own way, without recognition or compensation. But I met just a few of them, and now I wonder: what is everyone else is doing?
May God bless us all.