- Associated Press - Sunday, March 8, 2015

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Tavay Douglas is inspired.

After hearing the nation’s first black president stand in front of a Civil Rights landmark and preach about the importance of casting a ballot, the Harrison High School senior who’s a year shy of being able to vote is ready.

“I really didn’t understand the struggle of the movement before I learned about Selma recently,” Douglas told the Evansville Courier & Press (https://bit.ly/1EFubRQ). “Being here, it inspires me to go encourage others to try and get registered to vote so that we can help ourselves.”

Douglas is a member of a group of Evansville-area residents that are visited Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, as part of a tour organized by the Evansville African-American Museum.

Acting against a rigged system that suffocated the right to vote for African-Americans, a half century ago on March 7 roughly 600 protesters made their first march from Selma to Montgomery - a 51-mile trip.

But they didn’t make it across the bridge over the Alabama River in Selma before state troopers and an armed gang of community members beat them - men, women and children of all ages - with clubs and used tear gas. The violence marked the day as “Bloody Sunday,” and it led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

More than 40,000 people came to Selma on Saturday to hear President Barack Obama speak on the 50th anniversary of that first march. Obama said the labors of the Civil Rights protesters from the ‘50s and ‘60s changed the country, but that there is still work to be done.

“We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us,” said Obama, with the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the background.

Douglas, who stood in the hot Alabama sun for hours to hear the president, said she didn’t know about what happened in Selma until she saw the recent major motion picture “Selma,” which portrayed the movement that led to the march.

“I never knew about Selma. I never knew about this bridge. I never learned about John Lewis or Jimmie Lee Jackson,” she said.

Being in Selma at the same time as the original leaders of the movement, including Rep. John Lewis, who had his skull fractured during Bloody Sunday, put it all into perspective for Douglas.

“To actually stand in the same spots as where the movement began shines a light about the lives of the actual foot soldiers,” she said.

The Rev. Adrian Brooks Sr., lead pastor at Evansville’s Memorial Baptist Church, was among those in the front of the pack to hear the president speak Saturday.

Before the event, Brooks said it’s important for young people to understand the gravity of what happened in Alabama in the ‘60s.

“Hopefully, they (young people) will learn from some of the historical data that’s being given about what can happen when principled people stand up for that which is right,” Brooks said.

Brooks was invited by Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, to attend the weekend’s events. Donnelly said that people lost their lives for the right to vote and using that right is important.

“If there’s one thing our young people want to know, if you want to have your voice heard, voting’s the way to do it,” Donnelly said.

The president rhetorically asked how can people not vote after so many fought for the right to do so.

University of Evansville student Taylor Williams said people her age tend to not vote for multiple reasons, including a feeling of disenfranchisement or apathy.

“They don’t, even though they should. They should care,” she said.

Williams said she appreciates how the president didn’t focus only on race in his speech.

Obama mentioned gay rights and women’s rights in his commemorative address.

“It’s more than just race. Everyone has a different struggle every day,” she said.

Williams, a 20-year-old Nashville native, said she faces adversity because of her skin color.

“I’m light-skinned,” said Williams. “I’m black. I’m mixed. I mean, I identify with both.”

There are stereotypes and other issues she faces because of her “light-skin.”

“Growing up, I was too white for the black kids and I was the chosen black person for white friends,” she said.

Williams and Ashley Leroy, also a University of Evansville junior, are documenting their trip to Alabama for their video blog. Williams and Leroy said they record and talk about issues - campus issues, social issues and other topics.


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

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