Jubilee time is a coming. Voting Rights Celebrations are a coming. People get ready. Joyful but meaningful times are a coming.
The National Voting Rights Celebration starts the third Sunday in February, 2011 which will have passed by the time you read this. Everybody knows about the Bridge Crossing Jubilee but few acknowledge the Celebration. I want you to know and understand that the Celebration is much broader than the Jubilee.
The Jimmy Lee Jackson Memorial Program held in Perry County on the third Sunday in February kicks off the National voting Rights Celebration. It continues until the Second Friday in March, covering several weeks and lots of events.
Jimmy Lee Jackson’s death was a violent catalyst for the Voting Rights Movement. People were so incensed about the cold blooded murder of Jimmy Lee they had to do something. They decided to march from Selma to the State Capitol.
Jimmy Lee was not in the attempted night march from Zion United Methodist Church in Marion to the Perry County Jail to prevent the murder of Rev. James Orange, who was in the jail. The word on the street was that the Klan would kill him that night. Jimmy Lee’s grandfather, Cager Lee, had been badly beaten in the march. Jimmy Lee was waiting in Mack’s Restaurant to drive him home after the march. Now, he just wanted to get his beaten and bleeding grandfather to the doctor.
One State Trooper, James Bonard Fowler, just shot Jimmie down in cold blood. (Forty five years later he pled guilty to manslaughter in the third degree and received a six month sentence in jail). The shooting became a powerful catalyst in the Voting Rights Movement with the opposite effect intended. That’s why we commence the National Voting Rights Celebration with the Jimmy Lee Jackson Memorial Program.
All programs that relate to Civil Rights/Voting Rights struggle in Birmingham, Montgomery, various Black Belt Counties and in other places during this several week period make up the National Voting Rights Celebration. But few acknowledge this celebration. Several hundred participate in the Jimmy Lee Jackson Memorial Program, but tens of thousands participate in the Bridge Crossing Jubilee. People from across America, Europe, the Caribbean, Canada and other places flock to Selma for the Jubilee. It’s something to behold.
When some 550 persons attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery on the First Sunday in March 1965 because of the murder of Jimmie Lee, they were beaten bloody by state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and others. The event became known as Bloody Sunday. It also had the opposite effect intended by spurring on the Movement.
The Bridge Crossing Jubilee started as a half day celebration on the First Sunday afternoon in march. Then, it expanded to include all day Sunday. Then it expanded further to Saturday and then Friday and then Thursday. Then it extended to Monday on the other end. Every fifth year, it extends until the Friday after Bloody Sunday with a march all the way from Selma to Montgomery. The Jubilee just keeps expanding.
The Jubilee encompasses over 40 events that speak in various ways to the great victory achieved in the Voting Rights Struggle. All but seven of these events are free and there is something for everyone. I help with the following: the Sunday Unity Breakfast which will feature Alabama Governor Dr. Robert Bentley and Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina; the Monday Slow ride from Selma to Montgomery with participants in the Voting Rights Movement sharing their personal stories with our children; the Saturday Bridge Crossing Golf tournament; and the Saturday Parade.
The power of the Bridge Crossing Jubilee brought President Bill Clinton to Selma in 2000. It brought president-to-be Senator Barack Obama in 2007. It brought Winnie Mandela from South Africa in 2010. This year it will bring many well known leaders including the following: Assistant Democratic Minority Leader Congressman Jim Clyburn; Alabama Governor Robert Bentley; Congressman John Lewis and a delegation of U. S. Senators and Representatives; Rev. Jesse Jackson; and so many more. I hope it also brings you from wherever you are.
There is so much to celebrate even with the recent political setbacks. I know I stand on the shoulders of those who fought so valiantly for the right to vote. Everyone of us, regardless of race, class, gender, political affiliation, etc. can find something good that is grounded in the Voting Rights Struggle. The Bridge Crossing Jubilee/National Voting Rights Celebration not only reminds us of past struggles but challenges us to be the best possible servants as we struggle to forge our future. Yes, Jubilee time is a coming. Voting Rights Celebrations are a coming. People get ready for a special time is a coming.
EPILOGUE – It’s good to know something. It’s better to know why and how it came about. This provides insight to be utilized in the future. That’s also true of celebrations. We must know what great victories led to the celebration.
About the author: Hank Sanders represents the 23rd Senate District in Alabama.