SELMA, Ala. (AP) — Dozens of marchers set out across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge Monday with plans to walk to the Alabama Capitol, saying the voting rights won by blood in Selma 50 years ago are now under threat.
The marchers are recreating the Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March of 1965. The 54-mile trek is recreated every five years, but organizers say this year is particularly important.
Marchers called for the restoration of the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act. The U.S Supreme Court in 2013, in a case also arising out of Alabama, struck down the formula that determined which states had to get permission from the Justice Department before changing voting laws.
“The heart of it has been taken out,” Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Charles Steele, 68, said. Steele said about 50 people will try to make the full walk to Montgomery.
Here are some stories from the current march:
A NEW MOVEMENT
Bernard Lafayette, 74, was just 20-years-old when he joined the Freedom Riders to challenge segregation across the American South. He suffered three cracked ribs when he was beaten by a mob outside a bus station in Montgomery.
Selma was considered even more dangerous, he said.
Lafayette in 1962 volunteered to come to the city as a voter registration director with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
He was beaten by an unknown assailant in 1963, the same night Medgar Evers was murdered in Mississippi.
A black and white photo stored on the smartphone stashed in his jacket pocket shows him at the front of the march in 1965, alongside Andrew Young and other fresh-faced civil rights workers.
Lafayette smiled at the children, some as young as 11, walking ahead. That makes him optimistic about the future.
“Look at those young people up there. They are middle school, high school. We were the young people in our day. Now we see ourselves,” Lafayette said.
Behind him, young marchers sang a song with lyrics about Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner — who died after being placed in a choke hold by a police officer in New York. “
“That’s a new song. That’s how you can tell you’ve got a movement, when you’ve got new songs,” Lafayette said.
THEN AND NOW
John Rankin, 68, wearing an orange reflective vest and an “I love Jesus” button, walked past the charred and abandoned shells of homes on the now-closed Craig Air Force base on the outskirts of Selma.
The homes were turned into a low-rent housing development, but many are uninhabitable after being burned, vandalized or looted. The region remains swathed in poverty, he said, noting that the lock manufacturer where he worked as a lead man closed more than a decade ago.
“We have a long way to go. People need good jobs,” Rankin said.
Rankin was just a teen when he was cracked on the head by a club during Bloody Sunday.
“We were just expecting to go to jail we weren’t expecting to get beat up,” Rankin said.
Fifty years later, there is an African-American president and Jim Crow laws are long eradicated, but in some ways Selma is “not that much” different.
The schools are segregated again, he said, as white families pay for private school and the public schools are almost entirely black students or other minorities.
Eleven-year-old Desiree Robertson carried an American flag helping lead the group of marchers down a rolling stretch of highway.
Does she think she’s up for the entire 54-mile walk? Well, yeah.
“I did it when I was 8. It was fun,” Robertson said.
Her uncles marched in 1965 and her grandmother is involved in the civil rights commemorations in Selma.
Robertson said she is missing school for the march, but learning history.