Tuesday, March 5, 2013

“Bloody Sunday”

It happened on March 7, 1965. That was the date of “Bloody Sunday,” the fateful day when peaceful protesters who were trying to march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery were severely beaten by local and state police. They were marching primarily for voting rights.
I am embarrassed to say that I was so absorbed in my own activities that I don’t really remember hearing about that terrible day at the time. But because of what seems to be a very questionable move in the U.S. Supreme Court, I have learned about the events in and around Selma in 3/65 from the news this past week.
For example, the cover story on the front page of last Thursday’s USA Today was “A Crack in Civil Rights Law?” The crack referred to is conservative justices questioning Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that was first enacted in August 1965, five months after Bloody Sunday.
A similar article in the 2/27 New York Times reports how Justice Scalia, the court’s senior member, referred to the provisions of the VRA being a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” I have never been a “fan” of Justice Scalia, but to call a bill which seeks to safeguard voting rights of all Americans a “racial entitlement” seems particularly asinine to me.
One of the people who suffered serious injury on Bloody Sunday was John Lewis (b. 1940 in Alabama). Lewis, who has been the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district since 1987, was interviewed by Richard Wolf for the 2/28 issue of USA Today.
Wolf wrote that Lewis, who “has been marching for voting rights for more than half a century,” declares that that is not long enough “for the Supreme Court to decide that the finish line has been reached.” It is not long enough because of lingering impediments to equal voting rights for some American citizens, especially people of color.
Lewis, who was the student body of American Baptist Theological Seminary (in Nashville, now known as American Baptist College) in 1961, the year of his graduation, was arrested 40 times from 1960 to 1966. He still bears the scar on his head from being billy clubbed on Bloody Sunday, a blow so strong he might well have died from it.
John Lewis being billy clubbed on March 7, 1965
Eight days later, on March 15, 1965, President Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress, calling for voter rights legislation. In that speech, he proclaimed, “We shall overcome!” (That bold statement reportedly touched Martin Luther King, Jr., so deeply that he wept.) In August, then, the Voter Registration Act was approved by Congress and signed by the President.
Four times since then, the VRA has been re-affirmed by Congress—in 1970, 1975, 1982, and again in 2006, when the Senate voted 98-0 in favor of it. But now Shelby Co. v. Holder is calling the constitutionality of the VRA into question, and at least four of the SCOTUS Justices seem to be in favor of declaring it unconstitutional.
Nevertheless, the initial zeal for voting rights of the Selma marchers, and the disgraceful activities of the Alabama law enforcement officers, is not being forgotten. On March 3, Vice-President Biden traveled to Selma to mark the 48th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. (See a CBS News link here.)
In The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America (2012), American historian James T. Patterson writes that Bloody Sunday is “a pivotal date in the history of the civil rights movement” (p. 80). Let’s hope and pray that the SCOTUS won’t gut the VRA and endanger the gains in voter rights made in the past 48 years.


  1. Thanks, Leroy, for an informative and important column. I'm embarrassed to say, too, that I wasn't "on top" of those civil rights movements at the time. I graduated from high school in 1965 and, while sympathetic to the civil rights movement, was more interested in cars, girls, and Baptist church activities at the time.

    Part of the terrible legacy the two Bushes have left for America has been the reactionary Supreme Court we've had to live with in recent years. You and I won't live to see it, I suppose, but I predict that the likes of Thomas and Scalia will go down as two of the worst justices in our history. And if they don't, God help us.

    1. Of course Scalia was appointed by Reagan, but he and the three appointed by the Bushes are certainly different, and not as good in my opinion, as the four appointed by Clinton and Obama.

  2. I do remember it well. I don't know if the news footage was of that day or another - but I remember a "Real 'Mur'kun" young "man" walking up to the camera - and spitting in the lense.

    Funny about that sort: So sure of their superiority (morally and otherwise) - but hating for the world to know about them....

    Great post Leroy! I must take dog to vet now; more later....

    1. Thanks for writing, Larry.

      Earlier today I saw this on Facebook:

      “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

      According to what I found on the Internet, those are words spoken/written by American poet/novelist Charles Bukowski (1920-94).

  3. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson has just sent this concise comment:

    "Anyone who lives in these states should know that civil rights are still at risk. It is hard to believe that the U.S. Supreme Court has justices like Scalia."

  4. A local Thinking Friend also sent a concise comment by e-mail this morning:

    "Thank you for turning the light on regarding the ignorance of 48 years ago. Thank you also for turning light on today!"

  5. As I recall, from or about Ronald Reagan, "all you need is ignorance and confidence - then success is assured."

    I think it would be appropriate to resurrect "Reactionaries" as a fitting term for what "conservatism" has become.

    I think we are seeing the reaction of a very much alive, but underground, part of our society: Good old fashioned White Male Supremacy in all matters domestic - and Ugly Americanism in all matters foreign. They are reacting with rage over status loss since WWII.

    Steps toward this rage:

    Blacks serving, with distinction, in the military

    Blacks/women, from war effort work, finding another "proper place" for themselves

    Civil Rights. Feminism. Anti-materialism. Anti-war. (What happened to the good old days, when Niggers and women kept in their place and kept silent!?)

    The only acceptable public issue left for them was the Cold War - which we won!

    With no boogeyman "out there," a culture depended on an enemy or status definer had to find another foundation.

    Incorporate all this in a big mixing bowl - then add Goldwater's failed presidential bid, and stir for an extended period.... Forbe's Magazine, a decade or so ago, traced the early organizing, and think-tank building, after that election until it reached full-blown NeoConservatism as exemplified by the current loudest mouths, backed by vast financing, in the Far Right, religious & secular, media. The article title is "The Tentacles of Hate."

    So, the "good old boys" still loving "the good old days" - lost all their political battles. A very telling example of what was going on in their minds comes from journalists wonderings about how "All in the Family" was playing in the South. Turns out it played well, but with a caveat: White men there liked the show - but never understood why "the only one who was ever right about anything - never won in the end," as in Archie. I well recall that news segment and my parents' bemusement at the Southern mentality.

    There is some disjoint up there as I backed up to fill in some parts of the story and cut out some for space reasons.

    One "final" piece of this puzzle is found in the hearts/minds of rural southern Whites. For centuries they have "participated in the privileged White culture" as White Trash with only Blacks "below" them. With that not so socially acceptable they seem to be resorting to defining those "below" them as those on welfare. But, they are full of cognitive dissonance here - as they can't find enough employment, in their "right to work" states, so are on public assistance at a far higher rate than other parts of the country. Things ain't right - but OTHERS are to blame!

    I think the strain, both psychologically and socially, of maintaing a beloved status - while each prop for it is being knocked down - is the source of the fuel for the rage. The politicians and "news" marketers are all too well aware of this and have made their choices; for the most part working with it or gladly for it.

    My hope is that the rage level is evidence of desperation and frantic attempts at trying, one after another fabricated "hot button issue," to rally the troops - in a (hopefully) failing rear-guard action.

    Wow! Wasn't that long winded!? I'm really glad for this site - as the searching questions in my friend Leroy's mind - stimulate me to tie together many threads, and connect many dots, of what has been going on.

    I have a perennial interest in how things work and how things got the way they are. This site prompts me to dig deep!

    Hope that helps!

    1. Wow, Larry, thanks for your meaty comments!

  6. I cut this for space reasons:

    Nancy Ammerman has fleshed out the religious parts of this puzzle, in several books/articles, as the mostly rural Bible Belt culture was shaken badly by Southern Urbanization.

    (I also addressed this with my "Intra-Denominational Conflict in American Religion: Insights from Classical Sociological Theory," in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Dec. 1988.)

    The loss of that way of life, and the fear/isolation that filled the newly urbanized - led to their banding together in mega-churches where they could feel "at home" and where, as a reaction, developed what I call Aggressive Predatory Fundamentalism. Viz, the SBC leadership of the past 30 years plus Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee, Bryan Fischer, ad nausem...

    In the broadest historical sense, all this is the age-old "Traditionalism/Modernism" battle - that nearly every generation must fight.

    I've simply added current factors to that perennial process.

    All the best!

    1. Larry, did you know Nancy Tatom Ammerman at SBU? She graduated in 1972, and that spring is when I taught there (when you were in my class), but I don't remember meeting her then.

  7. A poem written by Thinking Friend Michael Willett Newheart in 2011:

    Sunday, Bloody (1965.3.7)

    All they wanted was a vote
    a say

    O say, can you see?
    the blood
    on our TV set
    not ketchup
    not Hershey's chocolate syrup
    but blood
    from the heads of people
    to breathe

    There's power,