Thousands gathered to reenact the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where protestors gathered 50 years ago to fight for the end of segregation.
Several Delawareans, both well-known and unfamiliar, were part of the monumental 50th anniversary march in Selma, Alabama to remember the regrettable history of segregation.
“Well I knew that it would be a great chance to connect with and be inspired by a critical moment in American history,” Sen. Chris Coons (D – Del.) said. “I did not expect some of the people who I met and got to hear from, the range of people I didn’t know or didn’t hear of before who were there.”
March 7, 1965, became known as “bloody Sunday,” after Alabama state troopers beat and gassed peaceful protesters promoting black voting rights. Sen. Coons used the weekend as an opportunity to promote his own bill on voting rights changes, hoping to shed some light on what he calls inequalities stemming from major policy changes two years ago.
“I did talk to several republican colleagues and asked them to co-sponsor the amendment to voting rights,” Coons said. “I was disappointed that they declined, but I will be persistent and determined.”
Hearing stories of mass bombings and listening to the voices of protesters from decades ago, Coons emphasized his respect for the people who risked their safety to promote equality for such a fundamental right.
“I just wish more people could understand what this is about and why it matters,” Coons said. “In some ways, you just have to be here.”
Senator Coons was not the only person out representing Delaware in Selma. Paul Braithwaite, a former director of the Congressional Black Caucus, joined the pilgrimage — something he said he’s wanted to do for years.
“These folks put their life on the line with the basic premise that they want America to live up to its full potential,” Brathwaite said. “They accomplished that, and they had nothing going for them except the sheer power of their dream and their hope for a better America.”
For many, looking back at the history of black Americans is a painful experience. The challenges that once stifled the success of black Americans’ success have slowly cleared, but the resonating tone at the Selma reenactment served as motivation to continue to promote equality.
“President Obama spoke about Ferguson and the challenges today and how to make our county safer,” Coons said. “I’m glad he spoke directly to it. I think we have some difficult work ahead of us to improve the American justice system.”
Participants in the Selma reenactment learned about the culture that was once divided by the superficial difference in skin color, but relating to it is another matter entirely.
“I am appreciative, but to fully understand what they did – I’m not sure it’s possible, but it is certainly extraordinary,” Brathwaite said.
And, while the stories of segregation in Alabama stain the pages of modern history books, many people in Selma on Saturday were moved by the overwhelming sense of togetherness and the concept of teamwork.
“I think one of the things that was said a lot was the notion of ‘we,’ being a very powerful word in the history of our country,” Brathwaite said. “We the people, yes we can. Collectively, what we can all do together. […] Those are powerful statements.”
Contact Greta Iverson at (302) 324-2771, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @greta_wade.