I could not believe my eyes. I just could not be seeing what I saw. It was a Facebook message posted by the Mayor of Selma and forwarded to me. The Facebook message said that the Bridge Crossing Jubilee was a “four-day party for Senator Sanders and his wife.” After all the years of hard work, this was unbelievable. I could not believe my eyes.
A party of four days or forty days could not bring President Bill Clinton to the Bridge Crossing Jubilee and Selma as a sitting president in 2000. He came again as a former president in 2007. A party could not bring President Barack Obama as a sitting president in 2015. He came as a U.S. Senator when he was running for president in 2007. A party could not bring Vice-President Joe Biden in 2014. It took something powerful to draw sitting presidents, vice presidents, and former presidents to Selma, a town of 20,000. It was the power of history forged in 1965 and lifted, celebrated and commemorated over many years, the last 25 years as the Bridge Crossing Jubilee. They understood that they could not have risen to the offices they held if it weren't for the history they were standing on in Selma. I just could not believe my eyes.
No party could bring powerful leaders from across the country and around the world year after year to the small City of Selma. They understood that most of them could not be in these high offices without the history forged in Selma. I could not be in the Alabama Senate without this history. The mayor of Selma could not be in office without this history. I could not believe that anyone could even think of the world-renowned Bridge Crossing Jubilee as “a four-day party,” not to speak of posting it on the Internet. I could not believe my eyes.
And it’s not just leaders who come. It is tens of thousands of everyday people who come from far and near every year. They come from as far as Africa, Europe, South America, Canada, the Caribbean and Asia. They come from as near as Dallas County, Perry County, Lowndes County, Wilcox County, Montgomery, Birmingham, Mobile, etc. In 2015, more than 80,000 came on Saturday, and more than 100,000 came the next day on Bloody Sunday. A four-day party could not have brought so many so far. It had to be about a powerful history, a powerful struggle, and a powerful symbolism. I could not believe my eyes.
I could not believe anyone would say the Jubilee lined my pockets or anyone else's pockets. The Jubilee does not make money; it takes money. Every year dedicated volunteers put in thousands of hours of uncompensated work, starting in Selma and spreading across the country. In addition, we put in money. I have put in tens of thousands just over the last couple of years. I just could not believe my eyes.
Let me tell you what is being called a “four-day party”. It varies between 40-50 events. All of these events are educational in their own way. It started with a memorial service yesterday at Tabernacle Baptist Church followed by the Old-Fashioned Mass Meeting at Tabernacle where the first mass meeting was held in Selma during the struggle for the right to vote. The speaker was Fred Gray, the lead attorney who fought in federal court to win the legal right to march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights and freedom from law enforcement brutality. How could anyone characterize the memorial of such sacred moments as a four-day party? I just could not believe my eyes.
Today and on Saturday and Sunday, there will be numerous workshops dealing with education, voting, women rights, criminal justice, voter suppression, and more. There is the Annual Mock Trial and the Public Conversation Forum, both of which will be broadcast across the country on SirusXM Radio. On Saturday night there will be the Freedom Flame Awards Banquet that recognizes leaders fighting for the right the vote. I just could not believe that anyone could call this a “four-day party”.
On Sunday there will be the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast with Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, perhaps the most effective spokesman against voter suppression. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Congresswomen Barbara Lee, Sherrilyn Ifill of the Legal Defense Fund, Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Charles Steele and others will be there. There will be special services at Brown Chapel, Tabernacle, First Baptist Church and other churches. The annual Bloody Sunday March will follow. That night we will hold a national forum on voter suppression. I just could not believe my eyes.
I do not have the room to name even half of the medley of events. Even the Street Festival has stories, gospel and other music that speak to the struggles we faced and still face. The entire Jubilee is designed to educate and lift, and inspire commitment and action. I just could not believe my eyes.
The Jubilee does not take from Selma. It adds to it. You cannot get a hotel room during these four days. When people spend money, they pay taxes to Dallas County, the City of Selma and the State of Alabama. The Jubilee stimulates tourism the year round. If this is “a four-day party” we need more such parties.
EPILOGUE – It’s hard to build up. It’s easy to tear down. It’s painful to see something that took years to build being attacked with words, actions and deeds. It is even sadder when we see those who have crossed over on bridges built by the blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice of others turn around and burn those very bridges.