Plans for two separate marches in Selma cancelled as groups unify

The Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River in Selma, site of some of the events of "Bloody Sunday" during the Civil Rights Movement (Carol M. Highsmith / Wikimedia Common)
The Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River in Selma, site of some of the events of “Bloody Sunday” during the Civil Rights Movement. (Carol M. Highsmith / Wikimedia Commons)

A very public conflict between the Bridge Crossing Jubilee, Inc., the local group that has been commemorating the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March for more than four decades, and the largely White-run The Faith & Politics Institute, a Washington-based group that had organized competing marches in Selma and Montgomery on the weekend commemorating the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” has been resolved with both groups agreeing to participate in a single march in Selma, a coalition of organizations has announced.

“The organizations in the unified committee will sponsor one march, the sacred Bloody Sunday re-enactment march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, March 8, 2015,” the 10 major organizations said in a joint press release. “No organizations in the unified committee will sponsor and or participate in any other march.”

The Faith & Politics Institute, which focuses on bringing people together to reflect on spiritual values and hold conversations across racial, religious, ideological and party lines, had announced plans to hold a march led by President Obama in Selma on Saturday, the day before the big march, and a separate march and rally on Sunday in Montgomery that would have competed directly with the annual bridge-crossing ceremonies. Rep. Johns Lewis (D-Ga.), who was brutally beaten on “Bloody Sunday,” is closely affiliated with the Faith & Politics Institute.

In an “Open Letter” to the group, dated Feb. 11, Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders of Selma wrote, “It appears to me that Faith and Politics has set out to not only diminish but to destroy Bloody Sunday. You not only scheduled another march on Saturday in Selma but you scheduled a march and rally in Montgomery on Sunday during the afternoon when the sacred Bloody Sunday March takes place in Selma. It would have been so simple to hold your events in Montgomery on Saturday and join the events in Selma on Sunday. However, the arrogance of power has caused you to try to diminish the sacred Bloody Sunday March and Commemoration and change history.”

After publication of Sanders’ letter, representatives from 10 organizations – including the Bridge Crossing Jubilee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Rainbow PUSH, the National Action Network (NAN), The Faith in Politics Institute, and the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma – came together to resolve the conflict.

The end result is that President Obama will speak in Selma on Saturday, March 7, the actual anniversary of the Bloody Sunday, but there will be no march in Selma that Saturday or in Montgomery on Sunday. The Faith in Politics Institute and local organizers have clashed before.

“This was not the first time I am sorry to say that the issue of who will be among those on the front lines has recently become a bone of contention. Faith and Politics has insisted that only members of the Faith and Politics delegation be on the front lines,” Sanders wrote. “We have insisted that some of the nearly 600 other individuals who were also on the Bridge on Bloody Sunday in 1965 be included.

“In 2013 when Vice President Biden was here, Faith and Politics wanted to allot only 30 places for survivors of Bloody Sunday with 270 places for members of their delegation, including congressional staff members. When an agreement was worked out that it would be half and half, Faith and Politics then had the Secret Service give virtually every place to members of the Faith and Politics delegation. It seems that you value status, power and money far more than you value blood, sacrifice, struggle and history.”

According the Sanders, “In the 17 or so years that Faith and Politics has been coming to the Bridge Crossing Jubilee, not once have you organized a March or contributed in any way. You raise millions of dollars by claiming to sponsor the Bloody Sunday March but never paid for even a chair, a porto-toilet, water or anything else. You never organized other people to come if they were not in your delegation. You just show up and insist on privilege even though you refused to be a co-sponsor because you could not be the sole sponsor. This is about your privilege and power. Bloody Sunday is about sacredness, sacrifice and struggle.”

Other organizers said that in the annual jousting for positioning in the march, attempts were made to remove Charles Steele, Jr. president of SCLC, from the front of the line even though Dr. Martin Luther King’s old organization organized the original march.

Messages seeking comment were left Tuesday for both the interim president and communications director of The Faith & Politics Institute but were not returned by press time. The federal government, schools, and many offices in the nation’s capital were closed Tuesday because of inclement weather.

Event organizers said Bernard Lafayette, board chairman of SCLC and an early organizer in Selma, played a  key role in brokering an agreement between the sparring groups. Lafayette, an ordained minister and longtime civil rights activist, has credibility in both camps and conducts conflict resolution training around the world.

With a truce now in place, march organizers are looking to the future with a list of activities that will span five days, from Thursday, March 5, through Monday, March 9.

Thursday’s activities will include a play about Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose death was the impetus for the Selma-Montgomery March, and a memorial for the martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement. Friday’s activities will include a session on women in the Civil Rights Movement, an educational summit, a session on organizing tactics, and a mock trial.

Saturday’s highlights include a parade, a voting rights workshop, breakout sessions on such topics as environmental justice and mass incarceration, a film festival capped by the Freedom Flame Awards Gala and an Old School blues show and dance.

The Sunday schedule begins with a Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King Unity Breakfast, a pre-march rally at famed Brown chapel AME Church with the bridge crossing at 2:30 pm, followed by a rally and salute to the movement’s foot soldiers. The march from Selma to Montgomery will take place on Monday, ending with a rally at the Alabama State Capitol.

A complete listing of events is posted on the website

The joint press release stated, “The Living Legends Dialogue on Saturday, March 7, 2015 will feature Diane Nash, Bob Moses, Claudette Colvin, Dr. Bernard Lafayette and the youth leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement.”

The coalition said it was also welcoming back “the foot soldiers and leaders of the Voting Rights Movement,” including former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) President John Lewis, Amelia Boynton, Dick Gregory, and former SCLC stalwarts Joseph Lowery, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette and Jesse Jackson.

“Ten major civil rights organizations have unified to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches,” they said in a joint press release. “We have jointly created more than 40 events for this historic anniversary weekend…”

Thanks to George E. Curry and the NNPA for sharing this story with us.

Find a local event commemorating the Selma march here.