But What of Selma, Worldwide Symbol of Voting Rights and Freedom?

Two of SOS’s founding members, Alabama State Sen. Hank Sanders and Attorney/Poet Faya Rose Toure, have written their perspectives in the New York Times on Selma — its storied past, its stagnated present and their future in the city they’ve fought to love:

selmamarchersinmontg1965_npsSELMA, Ala. — The memory is as powerful as if it were yesterday. On March 25, 1965, tens of thousands of us gathered before the Alabama State Capitol, the endpoint of a five-day, 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called out, “How long?” and the crowd responded, “Not long!” The moment was electric. We believed it would not be long before the right to vote was deeply rooted and bearing fruit in America.

In one sense, we were right. The Voting Rights Act, passed just months after the Selma marches, banned the discriminatory voting practices that many southern states had enacted following the Civil War. Over time, the Act enabled millions of African-Americans to register to vote, and for decades following its passage, voting rights continued to slowly expand. But in another sense we are still waiting. Either Dr. King was wrong or “not long” is biblical, measured in generations.

We came to Selma in 1971, newly married and fresh out of Harvard Law School. Our intentions were to stay for five years. We were sure that by then Dr. King’s vision of voting rights would have been realized. Over 40 years later, not only are the fruits scarce, but the roots are shallow and feeble.

Celebrations, commemorations and movies make people feel good, but the reality is that voting rights have been rolled back dramatically in recent years. The Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act, striking down a central provision requiring certain states, including Alabama, to obtain federal clearance before changing voting procedures. Since then, several states have limited access to voting by blacks and others. Today, all Alabama voters must show photo identification. In Alabama and other states, this I.D. must be government-issued. These policies, which disproportionately affect minority, poor and elderly voters who are less likely to possess government-issued I.D.s, are the 21st-century equivalent of the Jim Crow-era poll tax and literacy test.

Dr. King understood that voting would be the last right granted to African-Americans because it was the most powerful. Indeed, if we had better understood our history, we would not have been surprised that “not long” has stretched into a half-century. We did not remember that, though the 15th Amendment gave black men the right to vote in 1870, Congress in 1894 repealed legislation enacted in 1870 and 1871 that provided robust and necessary enforcements of that right. In a sense, in 1965 we were trying to get back to where we briefly were in America in the 1870s.

But what of Selma, the worldwide symbol of voting rights and freedom?

As Dr. King urged, we marched on the ballot boxes. In 1965 there were 300 registered African-American voters and zero African-American elected officials in Dallas County, where Selma is located; in 2015 there were 19,862 registered African-American voters and 19 African-American elected officials. But we greatly underestimated the power of those who control the voting process.

It took over 35 years to dislodge Joseph T. Smitherman, who was mayor of Selma on March 7, 1965, the day known as Bloody Sunday, when lawmen disrupted the first attempted Selma-to-Montgomery march, brutally attacking peaceful demonstrators. Today most elected officials in Selma are African-American. But in Dallas County — which is about 70 percent black — whites hold six of the seven countywide elected positions. Until 2010, eight African-Americans chaired meaningful committees in the Alabama State Senate. Now we are isolated minorities without a single position of statewide influence.

Some progress has been made in the justice system, though real justice remains far removed. The Selma mayor and police chief are African-American, and Dallas County has an African-American district attorney. But black men are often held in jail for extended periods on multimillion dollar bonds, and police brutality and profiling of the poor remain far too prevalent.

In Dallas County, the number of African-Americans living at poverty level is nearly eight times that of whites. Too many African-Americans in Selma still live in substandard housing. And while the law no longer requires it, nearly all African-American children here still attend schools that are effectively segregated. Our granddaughter graduates from high school in Selma this year, and there was not one white child in any of her classes from first through 12th grade.

Despite our city’s fame as a cornerstone of the Civil Rights movement, African-Americans in Selma who dare to discuss these issues openly and honestly are called racists, haters and worse.

Yes, we marched on the ballot boxes. But for the tens of thousands of African-Americans in Selma, life, as Langston Hughes said, “ain’t been no crystal stair.” Better off is not equal.

We came to Selma over four decades ago; today we are both in our seventies. When we arrived, we agreed that every five years we would decide anew whether to stay or leave. Each time we chose to stay. The choice is coming up again next year. What shall we do? The struggle continues because the challenges remain great.

Hank Sanders has served as a member of the Alabama State Senate since 1983. Faya Rose Toure is an attorney and civil rights activist. 

Faithful Seven Arrested at Alabama Capitol Found NOT GUILTY

(Montgomery, AL Oct. 6, 2014) — The seven Alabamians arrested for singing and praying in the State Capitol as an act of faith in support of health care and Medicaid expansion were found not guilty following their trial in Montgomery … Continue reading

“Faithful Seven” Headed to Trial In Moral Monday Arrests

The seven Alabamians arrested for singing and praying in the State Capitol as an act of faith in support of health care and Medicaid expansion will head to trial on Monday, October 6, 2014. The trial is scheduled to begin … Continue reading

Seven Arrested During Jericho March at the Alabama Capitol

[ NOTE: The contents of this post originally appeared in AL.com and from the the Greene County Democrat. The photo came from this blog’s post, “Arrest is a Minor Inconvenience.” ]

Faya Toure (aka Rose Sanders) leads the protestors us in the song, “There’s a River Flowin’ in My Soul,” in the Alabama Capitol Building of Montgomery.

Faya Toure (aka Rose Sanders) leads the protestors us in the song, “There’s a River Flowin’ in My Soul,” in the Alabama Capitol Building of Montgomery.

Seven marchers who participate in the Moral Monday Week of Action’s Jericho March at the Alabama Capitol were arrested when they refused to leave the State Capitol building after it closed at 5 p.m.

They were protesting Gov. Robert Bentley’s decision not to allow expansion of Medicaid in Alabama.

The Save OurSelves Movement for Justice & Democracy held marches for seven straight days at the State Capitol to advocate for a variety of causes, including voting rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights and others. They called the marches Jericho marches because of the Biblical story in the book of Joshua, when the Israelites followed God’s instructions and marched around the city of Jericho for seven straight days, including seven times on the seventh day, to bring the city’s walls down.

State Sen. Hank Sanders said that at the end of Thursday’s demonstration, 10 of the 40 or so marchers decided to enter the Capitol and stay for 24 hours as a special protest for Medicaid expansion.

“When law enforcement asked them to leave, three left but seven remained,” Sanders said.

“They said, ‘This house does not belong to the politicians, it was the people’s house,’ so they had a right to stay in there,” said Sanders, who was there but not among the group that went in the Capitol.

“I think the seven people that stayed in there were prepared to be arrested,” Sanders said. “They felt like that just because of politics hundreds of thousands of folks can’t get medical insurance and hundreds of folks die each year. It’s a moral issue.”

Those arrested Thursday were charged with second degree criminal trespassing, according to state police. Sanders said they bonded out of the Montgomery County jail at about 1 a.m. Friday.Seven

For more than a year, Bentley has staunchly opposed expanding Medicaid, which is a state option under the Affordable Care Act. . . .

Read the full story at  AL.com.

UPDATE

Those who were arrested are:

  • John Zippert, publisher of the Greene County Democrat newspaper and member of the Greene County Hospital and Nursing Home Board;
  • Augustus (Gus) Townes, retired state employee and community leader;
  • Faya Rose Toure’, civil rights attorney, activist and wife of Sen. Hank Sanders;
  • Alecha Irby, college student and community worker;
  • Rev. Fred Hammond, Tuscaloosa pastor and community leader;
  • Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, Dothan pastor and director of The Ordinary Peoples Society (TOPS); and
  • Annie Pearl Avery, civil rights veteran longtime grassroots warrior

Read John Zippert’s first-person account of his arrest in this article of the Greene County Democrat. This is a section from his article

Seven Arrested

About 5:00 PM we were approached by a group of half a dozen Black state troopers who were part of the State Capitol patrol. They told us it was closing time and that we needed to leave. Other state police officials came over the next half hour advising us that we needed to leave or we would be arrested. We told the police we had come to stay for 24 hours to bear witness against the Governor for failing to extend Medicaid. Two persons in our group left at that time because they did not want to be arrested.

At about 5:45 PM, Spencer Collier, the Governor’s head of Homeland Security, came accompanied by State Troopers to give us a final warning that if we did not leave we would be arrested. We told him we planned to stay for 24 hours to respectfully urge the Governor to change his position on Medicaid expansion. Collier said that decision was not in the jurisdiction of his department.

At about 6:00 PM, a group of mostly Black state troopers came and took our driver’s licenses or other identification, as well as taking our cell phones. Up to that time some members of the group had been taking pictures and communicating with social media sites.

The police then handcuffed each of us with yellow plastic handcuffs. The three women in the group were handcuffed in front and the four men were handcuffed in back.

The seven arrested were: Annie Pearl Avery of Selma, a former SNCC worker; Faya Rose Toure (Sanders), of Selma, a renowned civil rights attorney and activist; Alecha Irby, a student who recently transferred from Miles College to Alabama State University; Augustus (Gus) Townes, a retired state worker, who is active in SOS; Rev. Fred Hammond, a Unitarian minister from Tuscaloosa; Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of Dothan, Director of The Ordinary Peoples Society (TOPS), an organization dedicated to assisting ex-felons and persons currently incarcerated; and John Zippert, Co-Publisher of the Greene County Democrat and SOS member.

Faya Rose Toure, head of the SOS Direct Action Committee, continued leading songs after we were handcuffed and separated to different parts of the room. She also observed that it was interesting and a sign of progress that they sent mostly Black state troopers to arrest and guard us.

We spent the next two hours handcuffed waiting to be transported to jail. The police officials were confused as to exactly what to do with us. It was also clear that they were reluctant to take us out of the Capitol while our supporters and the press were outside and might impede our arrest. They told us that they were getting warrants for our arrest.

We learned later that the police told our supporters on the outside that they were taking us to the Montgomery City Jail, which was not true.

About 8:00 PM, it was almost dark; they led us through a tunnel connecting the State Capitol and the State House (where the Legislature now meets) and out a back service entrance into a waiting police van. Ms. Avery, who had been seated in a wheelchair, was driven in a police car, while the rest of us were transported in a standard police van with two benches. The van took us a short distance to the Montgomery County Detention Facilities.