SELMA, Ala. (AP) - Martin Luther King Street buzzed with excitement Sunday morning, the crowd increasing by the minute. Barricades lined the sidewalks leading to the famous Brown Chapel, the starting point of the Bloody Sunday march 50 years ago.
Famous people filled the red-brick chapel: the Rev. Jesse Jackson, United States Attorney General Eric Holder, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks and many more. They made speeches to the few specially invited for the event, while live feeds were broadcast on screens and speakers throughout the downtown.
Those who chose not to stand outside Brown Chapel instead stood six blocks away near the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Thousands had already gathered, waiting for the speeches to finish so the bridge crossing festivities could begin.
The crowd near the bridge ranged in age. There were grandmas and grandpas in wheelchairs and walkers and wide-eyed children in strollers. And in the crowd there was a family that had traveled from Wyoming to finish a march that began a half century ago.
They all stood and waited, shoulder to shoulder, ready to walk the footsteps of history for the 50th anniversary.
Fifty years ago was Bloody Sunday, when 600 people planned a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery. On March 7, 1965, the group left Brown Chapel and walked over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but when they crested the top, there was a line of Alabama State Troopers and mounted policemen.
The marchers didn’t turn back. The authorities beat them with clubs and tried to subdue them with tear gas.
James Reeb, a Casper-raised minister living at the time in Boston, watched the brutality on his television. The next day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked clergymen around the world to come to Selma. They would march again to Montgomery, this time on March 9.
James Reeb heard the call and answered.
He traveled to Selma and marched halfway across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but later that night, he was beaten and killed by white supremacists outside a local restaurant.
Fifty years later, the Reeb family was there to finish the march James began. His widow, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren partook in the march, waiting in the crowd anonymously.
The family all wore the same lime green shirts, given out by their tour organization, to make sure they didn’t lose each other in the rowdy swarm.
The crowd at the bridge was estimated at 20,000 people. There was never a quiet moment. Marchers sang songs and repeated chants, some with the assistance of a megaphone. They held up signs such as “Victory,” ”Freedom” and “Black Lives Matter” and waved flags.
When the announcement was made for the march to begin, the Reebs, along with everyone else, inched their way across the bridge over the brown Alabama River.
The Reebs, who’d come from Casper and Cheyenne and California, marched near the front of the throng, which stretched several back several blocks into downtown Selma. They talked with one another on the journey. Mostly, they smiled.
Helicopters flew above, while a drone hovered overhead, recording the march.
The Reebs marched, some holding hands. They crested the top and slowly made their way down the other side, completing the march in honor of a civil rights martyr and their loved one, James Reeb.
Afterward, they mounted a stage just beyond the bridge. The voice of a public address announcer echoed over the crowd, explaining they were the family of a minister who’d died in the struggle for civil rights, for human dignity.
Casper Star-Tribune Selma page: https://bit.ly/1wLZY2x
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com
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