Why even as Black Brits, we should celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Selma March on Bloody Sunday

50 years ago today, Dr Martin Luther King Junior lead hundreds of marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the town of Selma, Alabama to demand for equal voting rights for people of colour. The gruesome events that unfolded during that March shook America and marked a turning point in American history.

The events that led up to the March in Selma and vicious and violent treatment meted out to black people by the State police, vividly played out in Hollywood film ‘Selma‘, was retold today using new media by none other than Representative John Lewis, a civil rights activist who was one of those who led the march 50 years ago.

In a series of tweets, the 75-year-old former civil rights activist gave twitter users a short lesson in history, as he recalled with stunning clarity the events that led up to what was so brutal, it’s been dubbed ‘Bloody Sunday’.

As America marks the 50th anniversary of the march, the country’s first black President revisited Selma and on the same bridge where the historic march took place, gave what can only be described as the best speech of his tenure. Obama told the crowd filled with ordinary people from Selma as well as scores of congress men and women, and former Republican President George Bush that, “because of what they did, the doors of opportunity were opened for black people”.

Praising Rep John Lewis, Obama called him one of his heroes. “There are places, and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided,” said Obama.

“Many are sites of war – Concord and Lexington, Appomattox and Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character – Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.”

“Selma is such a place.”

It would have been difficult to give a speech commemorating the fight for equality by black Americans at such a momentous place without drawing parallels with recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island, where unarmed young black men were killed by white Police officers.

” If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done – the American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation,” Obama said.

President Obama and Rep John Lewis. Photo: Twitter

President Obama and Rep John Lewis. Photo: Twitter

“Selma teaches us, too, that action requires that we shed our cynicism. For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.”

“Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country. I understand the question, for the report’s narrative was woefully familiar.”

“It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement. But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom; and before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.”

The first family walks across the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate Selma at 50. Photo: twitter

The first family walks across the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate Selma at 50. Photo: twitter

Over here in Britain, there has been limited coverage of the anniversary as it is seen as ‘American’ history. But is it?

The successes of African-Americans historically trickled down to Africans and people of African origin everywhere in the world. The advancements for the rights of black people fought for by those involved in the civil rights movement is the direct reason why black people everywhere today have the right to demand to be treated fairly and equally wherever they are and President Obama is right, the fight still goes on.

Black people may have equal voting rights and privileges to white people by law, but we are still a long way before race is no longer an issue in our communities- n getting the job of your dreams, in providing equal opportunities, in the sharing of resources. This is why the Selma fight has to be remembered and celebrated across the world, to remind us that our work here is not done yet.

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