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Selma anniversary unites Miami

By: Carol Porter

In memory of “Bloody Sunday” on March 7 in Selma, Ala., a huge contingent of people gathered at the Torch of Friendship right outside the stores of Bayside and the towers and condos on the Miami waterfront to march through the streets of Miami to nearby Overtown.

Rev. Gary Johnson, director of the Miami branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, encourage marchers through a bullhorn on Saturday.

All races and ages, Black, white and Hispanic, gathered to honor those who put their lives on the line 50 years ago at Selma and to renew their own commitment to democracy.

"Selma is Miami," "Selma is now" are some of the phrases on signs carried by the marchers.

Their final destination in Overtown was St. John’s Baptist Church, where they were greeted by a rendition of the “Ballad of Harry Moore,” a Brevard County activist who was killed when his house was firebombed on Christmas Day in 1954, and where they watched PBS’ “Eyes on the Prize” and heard other speakers. More than a dozen civil rights and community organizers had a presence, including the Miami branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Florida New Majority, the Miami-Dade NAACP, the AFL-CIO of South Florida, Catalyst Miami, Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, LIUNA Southeast Laborers Council, Miami Workers Center, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Power U Center for Social Change, SEIU Florida, St. John’s Baptist Church and UNITE Here Local 355.

While the world watched, on Saturday, President Barack Obama gave a solemn address in Selma, a small community best known for the birthplace of the 1965 Selma voting rights movement, the Selma to Montgomery marches, and “Bloody Sunday” when people marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge were bullied, billy-clubbed, tear-gassed and driven back. Other marches took place during 1965, where people fighting for their civil rights were bullied, attacked and some were even murdered. The marches and the resulting coverage by the media led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson and other advances in equal rights but many still feel it has not gone far enough.

While making their way along Biscayne Boulevard through the streets of Miami to Overtown, marchers chanted “We Shall Not Be Moved,” “We Shall Overcome,” and “Ella’s Song,” all songs born during the Civil Rights movement. At one point, kneeling down in the street was a clear reminder of the moment when Dr. Martin Luther King and his followers kneeled down in the street in front of the police officers who had attempted to block their way to Montgomery.

People chanted with bullhorns and music pumped through the speakers of the car in front of them. Members of local law enforcement led them through the street. They marched past the proposed the site of Worldcenter mall, a project that some marchers said needs to hire more locals.

Area residents, hearing the music and the voices of the marchers, came out of their businesses and churches to watch and a few shook hands with the marchers, or gave them the thumbs up while they made their way through the streets. Marchers linked arms together and also pumped their fists in the air.

Among those who took part in the march were Loreal Arscott and Deidrea Belfon, and Arscott’s 4-year-old daughter Leia and her 9-year-old niece Jaliah Nelson. Both women said they grew up watching documentaries and reading about Selma and also had seen the movie with Deidra and Jaliah.

“Jaliah said she was sad that people were being mistreated because they didn’t do anything wrong,” said Arscott.

Ninety-year-old Eufaula Frazier said she was not well enough to travel to Selma but she was glad to watch the proceedings on television, and she had been to every Democratic convention since 1972 including the recent one in Denver, Co. where President Barack Obama was nominated for a second time.

“I’m so glad 50 years later, God spared us to be here,” said Frazier, “so we can celebrate that moment.”

Reverend Gary Johnson, director of the Miami branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, spoke of the historical significance of Selma and how people today must turn out to vote so their deaths would not be in vain and that the future of people’s rights would be secured.

“Fifty years ago, Americans of all ages, risked it all to secure everyone’s right to vote,” said Johnson. “The sacrifices of the past have yielded some great gains, but the fight to ensure that everyone can be a part of those successes still continues, especially here in Miami.”

Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority, spoke of Selma’s significance and the battle of voting and other rights that still continue to the present day.

“Today we see not just an attack on voting rights, but also battles against gentrification, police brutality, and the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Perera. “This is a chance for people to honor the past and to be inspired to continue the work of making this democracy — and this city — benefit everyone who dreams of a better life for themselves and their families.”


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