Politics & Government

Texans among those to ‘keep the torch going’ in Selma

The sun rises over Edmund Pettus Bridge on Alabama River on Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Selma, Ala., prior to celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights.
The sun rises over Edmund Pettus Bridge on Alabama River on Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Selma, Ala., prior to celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights. AP

The Rev. Kyev Tatum found what he was looking for in Alabama this weekend.

He was among tens of thousands who traveled there to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil-rights march in Selma that helped lead to the Voting Rights Act. Buses of people from several Texas cities made the trip.

“It’s indescribable,” said Tatum, who, along with Bryant Pearson, founder of the Bowtie Boys Mentoring Program, accompanied dozens of young men from North Texas on the bus trip. “It’s spiritual, it’s reviving, refreshing.

“Our mission is to reconnect with our past in a way that can help improve our country,” said Tatum, who heads the Tarrant County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “We are connecting our souls together again and reminiscing about those who made the path and kept the torch going so we now can keep the torch going.”

President Barack Obama was among those who met Saturday in Selma, home of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where in 1965 police tried to break up the more than 50-mile march by using tear gas and beating participants, forever marking the once-peaceful event as “Bloody Sunday.”

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, were there as well.

Pearson said he hopes the North Texas youths benefit from the trip.

“It’s hard for them to understand that people treated other people that way,” said Pearson, of Garland. “Now they actually see it.

“I’ve already had a couple come to me and say, ‘I need to make some changes,’” he said. “To me, that’s worth the trip.”

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, joined a bipartisan delegation in Selma this weekend, listening to Obama and visiting historic sites.

He posted on Facebook about his visit to Brown Chapel AME Church, which served as a triage site 50 years ago for those injured in the march.

“While we have made great strides in the voting rights movement, fifty years later we continue to fight restrictive voter ID laws and heavily gerrymandered districts,” he wrote. “It is my hope that we can look back on history and apply these lessons we learned to today.”

‘Watershed moment’

The Texas House recently adopted a resolution honoring the Selma march.

“The march was a watershed moment in the civil-rights movement, precipitating the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965,” said Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City. “The march helped give voice to millions of people long silenced by an oppressive and unjust system.”

As thousands in Selma mark the anniversary, Democrats note continued discrimination by Texas leaders.

“It’s important to acknowledge the overt intentional discrimination by Texas leaders not 50 or 25 or even ten years ago, but over just the last few years,” Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a Democratic group, said in an email.

“Our current state leaders — Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, AG Paxton and Speaker Straus — have all participated directly or indirectly in actions ruled to be intentionally discriminatory against African American and Hispanic Texans. What’s more, they are currently defending these discriminatory actions in federal court.”

Angle cited recent redistricting plans and the state’s voter ID law.

“Leaders in no other state in the nation — not even the old south states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi or South Carolina — have been found by a court to have intentionally discriminated against their own minority citizens during even the last ten years, much less the last 3 and a half years,” he wrote.

Reynolds said gains made decades ago are now in jeopardy.

“Our struggle is not over,” he said. “We must honor the legacy of Selma by continuing the fight to preserve the right to vote.”

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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