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For Selma marcher, memories of chaos still fresh 50 years on

Friday, March 06, 2015 - 02:58

''Before we could turn to run, it was too late. They came in from both sides, the back and the front and they were just beating people,'' - Joanne Bland remembers ''Bloody Sunday''. Display (no reporter narration)

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MULTI-MEDIA DISPLAY: NO REPORTER NARRATION STORY: Commemorations are set to mark the 50th anniversary of what's known across the United States as "Bloody Sunday" -- a day when civil rights protesters marching for voting rights were brutally beaten by police in Selma, Alabama. On March 7, 1965, roughly 600 civil rights activists began a 50 mile (80km) march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in an effort to end racial discrimination in voter registration. They were met at the Edmund Pettus Bridge by armed Alabama State Troopers and told to end their demonstration. The marchers were then brutally beaten and tear gassed as they crossed the bridge, named after Edmund Pettus -- a former Ku Klux Klan leader, Confederate general and U.S. Senator who lived in Selma after the Civil War. The events and the violent images attached to that day became a pivotal force in the American civil rights movement, leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 later that year. Joanne Bland, who was an 11-year-old girl on "Bloody Sunday" remembers the crowds gathering in town for the march that day. "When they started to line up, they lined up on the playground of George Washington Carver home, so there was the march. So I hopped in," Bland told Reuters. A number of community and religious leaders had joined the march, which was led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. From that playground, the crowd marched for the bridge, where the troopers were waiting. "We walked down Broad Street and over the bridge and when I crossed the bridge, I saw the police lined up across all four lanes. I knew we weren't going to Montgomery," Bland said. "Before we could turn to run, it was too late. They came in from both sides, the back and the front and they were just beating people," Bland told Reuters. "That tear gas burned our eyes, it got in our lungs, we couldn't breathe, we couldn't see, we panicked," she solemnly recounted. U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Selma on March 7, to recognize the 50th anniversary. Bland expressed an extreme sense of pride when speaking about being a part of that day - even though she says she didn't realize it at the time - but regretted the presence of many of the same struggles. "When I was a child, I didn't know how it would affect my life now, but it also makes me sad that some of the same battles of the sixties, we seem to be fighting over again. And things don't go away. We keep renaming the same stuff and I think every generation thinks they have to start a battle over. But if you don't know the mistakes and the gains of the past, you're destined to be bogged down in the same stuff." The Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6 of that year, banned literacy tests and other tactics used in the U.S. South to block racial minorities from voting. In addition to a speech by Obama this weekend, events to mark the anniversary in Selma will include a music festival, workshops on topics from voting rights to environmental justice and a march across the bridge.

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For Selma marcher, memories of chaos still fresh 50 years on

Friday, March 06, 2015 - 02:58