‘This is the new Reconstruction,’ said Martin Luther King associate
Published : Monday, February 26, 2018 | 6:45 AM
History walked in Pasadena last week.
“Passing the Torch: From Selma to Today,” a three-city California tour honoring the memory of the Selma, Alabama marches of 1965, brought two historic march participants to the home of Pasadena Area Community College District Trustee Berlinda Brown last week, to help inspire new young activists.
Joining Dr. Bernard Lafayette and former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, was former Selma, Alabama Mayor James Perkins, who stepped in for Dr. Clarence Jones, King’s personal attorney, who was unable to attend.
“This is the beginning of the new Reconstruction,” said Lafayette, who participated in all three historic Selma marches, and who was with Dr. Martin Luther King on the morning of his assassination.
Lafayette, who has worked for decades with at-risk youth and students, said his work and appearance was simply a part of Dr. King’s call, when he told Lafayette, “It is crucial to institutionalize and international non-violence.”
“As history repeats itself,” said Lafayette, “it moves like a circle. So, the question is, how large is that circle going to be. If it’s a large circle, it will take a long time for things to come around. If it’s a small circle, change will come quickly. And the size of that circle depends,” he said, fervently, “on the quality of the leadership we have among our young folks.”
The event was sponsored by Pasadena YouthBuild, Gateway Educational Foundation, and Holy Assembly Church of God in Christ.
“This was a call for change today,” agreed Bishop Christopher Milton, who opening the evening event with a blessing. “This touched something in me today. I felt it in my soul.”
The three Selma to Montgomery marches were held during eighteen days in March of 1965, along the 54-mile highway from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery, and were organized by nonviolent activists to exercise their constitutional right to vote, in defiance of segregationist repression, as part of a broader voting rights movement underway in Selma and throughout the South.
The Selma march was also a direct response to the beating death of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson in late February of 1965.
On March 7, State troopers and county Posse men attacked the unarmed marchers after they passed over the county line, in an event which became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Law enforcement officers beat activist Amelia Boynton unconscious, and the subsequent media coverage and outrage turned the location, the Edmund Pettis Bridge, into an eternal symbol of freedom.
The final march began March 21. Protected by 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and many FBI agents and Federal Marshals, the marchers averaged 10 miles a day along US Route 80, known in Alabama as the “Jefferson Davis Highway.” The marchers arrived in Montgomery on March 24 and at the State capital on March 25, with thousands having joined the campaign, as 25,000 people entered the capital city in support of voting rights.
Later that year, in August, led by President Lyndon Johnson, Congress passed the historic Voting Rights Act, which denied voter discrimination on the basis of race.
Praising Boynton, former US Ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta, Young, said, “This event tonight points to the work of a young woman who went to Selma, Alabama, when she was 19, in 1929, and she lived until she was about 104, and began registering voters in 1932, about 86 years ago.”
There is currently an active fundraising drive to restore Boynton’s Selma home, which essentially, at one time or another, housed every African-American luminary passing through Selma, throughout her activist career.
“She voted way back then in 1934,” noted Young, “but she she also led a ‘Get out the Vote’ effort for President Obama’s re-election. She gave nearly all of her 104 years to the cause of civil rights. And I think there is a another generation now that is beginning to take up the cause,” Young added.
As Phil Brown, director of the Gateway Educational Foundation, noting the current political climate, told the group, “There is a hunger out there. We need to re-engage our youth, and encourage the leaders of this community to engage with our young people, and give them an understanding of their civic responsibility, and the only way we can do that, is, we have to preserve the history of what has happened before us.”