It’s Black History Month, and I am glad for it. It was only a few short months ago that individuals forgot the Selma-to-Montgomery marches on behalf of voting rights and tried to change our voting rights again.
Three marches grew out of the Selma, Ala., voting rights movement. Selma is located in Dallas County, Ala. In 1961, 80 percent of the blacks in Dallas County lived below the poverty level. There were 15,000 blacks in the county who were old enough to vote, but only 130, less than 1 percent, were registered to vote. The blacks decided to organize the Dallas County Voters League. In 1963, the league and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee decided to begin voter-registration work. Their efforts were blocked by state officials, the White Citizens’ Council and the Ku Klux Klan. Under pressure, the league requested help from Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
After attempts to register to vote were met with several acts of violence, a decision was made to march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery, to call attention to their plight. The first march took place March 7, 1965, when nearly 600 people were led out of Selma by John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Rev. Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The sheriff, who deputized all white males over 21 to deal with the protesters, began shoving and beating demonstrators with nightsticks. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized, and the day came to be known as Bloody Sunday.
King organized a second march to be held March 9, 1965. The marchers tried to get a court order to prevent violence. Instead of a court order, the judge issued a restraining order to stop the march. The leaders decided to hold a partial march. They marched to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, held a prayer meeting and turned back. Three white ministers were attacked, and one later died in the hospital.
The third march was held March 21, 1965. About 3,000 people assembled for the journey. When the group finally crossed into Montgomery County on March 24, it was 25,000 strong. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965.
To those not personally affiliated with the Civil Rights Movement legislation — such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — they are simply laws. But to some of us who remember the pain and suffering of those who fought the fight we will never forget the price paid for the opportunity to go to the polls and vote.
The state officials who believe they can change voting laws as they please to favor one political party or another are simply wrong. People are still prepared to go into the streets if they have to, to protect their right to vote.
People who are willing to fight to protect their rights under the Second Amendment aren’t the only people who are willing to fight for their rights. The right to vote sits at the center of our democracy.
We shall not be moved.