From Selma to Ferguson: Standing Together for Justice

  • March 2, 2015
We March With Selma

Library of Congress

What do you know about the events in Selma, Alabama in the 1960’s? What part of that history speaks to you?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. In the history books, we know this as Bloody Sunday, where 600 peaceful protestors were met with brutality. As events unfolded, the media captured photos and film of what would later become the impetus for thousands to become a part of the movement. Dr. King and his followers focused their campaign on Alabama because of the suppression of black people’s right to vote there. They knew how important it was for the world to see the violence and to have those images on its consciousness. They knew that those who believed in equality were not going to be able to simply rest on their beliefs.

The Civil Rights Movement  needed action from the community, the nation and the government and that was the moment when it was needed most.  It is hard to imagine the level of commitment one would need to intentionally expose oneself to physical violence, but that’s exactly what Dr. King asked of them in their fight for justice and equity.  Selma is part of our shared history, and there is no denying that notable progress has been made.  Current events of the past year are a clear reminder, however, that much work still needs to be done.

Last summer, there was discussion throughout the country about Ferguson being the Civil Rights Movement for this generation. We can draw some comparisons to Selma, while recognizing that the blatant denial of voting rights in 1960 Alabama was an extreme version of racism. Nightly, we watched as news media delivered images of protestors in Ferguson who were angry and frustrated by the tragic consequences of the institutional racism which has had a significant impact on their opportunities and livelihood and the community’s safety. As they had during Selma, people from across the country were motivated to join in and become a part of something bigger than themselves.  Ferguson provided that moment when people could take action in support of the values of justice and equity we collectively hold as a nation.  Activism took on many forms, as people from diverse communities descended on Ferguson to add their support to the protest, similar to the 8,000 that came to Selma on the third attempt to make their values and beliefs heard.

Selma, Ferguson and all the other events that have raised awareness to issues of injustice serve as stepping stones to progress. It’s not enough for us to be content with the advancements we’ve made; we need to consider how to continue advocating for institutional change. Civil rights pioneer, Frederick Douglass said “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Our beliefs in equity and justice for all people mean we may have to be willing to challenge the institutions that are better served by maintaining the status quo than by challenging it.  Fifty years ago, the people of Selma faced injustice and decided it was time to stand up. We follow in their brave footsteps.  Both Selma and Ferguson provide teachable moments for educators to share history and stories, teach about bias and injustice and inspire students to take action to create positive change in the world.


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