By Arthia Nixon
PHOTO: Frank Powell, III
50 years after Amelia Boyton Robinson was iconically photographed being beaten by a state trooper in Bloody Sunday for simply wanting to exercise the right to vote, the woman, who is now over 105 held the hand of the nation’s first Black President, Barack Obama
and crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge to commemorate the event in her wheelchair.
Our Frank Powell lll was there and captured this image which also included one of the youngest civil rights leaders to accompany Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, now a Georgia congressman.
“There are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided,” said the President. “Many are sites of war — Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character — Independence Hall and Seneca Falls,
Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.”
“Selma is such a place,” he noted. “In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history — the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher — all that history met on this bridge.”
The President said it was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America. And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth,
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, the idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America — that idea ultimately triumphed.
“As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation,” he added. “The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.
President Obama said the Americans who crossed the bridge (named for a politician who was also a KKK grand dragon) gave courage to millions. He said they marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities –- but they didn’t seek special
treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.
“What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, that love and hope can conquer hate,” he said.
“As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, or half-breeds, or outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse –- they were
called everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. Their lives were threatened. Their patriotism challenged.”
“And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?” he asked. “What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people –- unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious
tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?
Because, he said, Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person. Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” “We The People.” “We Shall Overcome.” “Yes We Can.” That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.
“Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer,” said President Obama. “Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer. Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile. Somebody already got us over that bridge. When it feels the road is too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on [the] wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.”