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The Gifts of Selma

The events of March 7, 1965 in Selma, Alabama comprised one of the most revolutionary acts of democracy in American history.  A dozen people from Virginia-Highland Church attended the 50th anniversary observance. We would like to share their reflections about the day.

In this entry, David Gillespie offers the gifts he received by making the trip. 

As we drove into Selma, Alabama on the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” my friend Eileen and I were like kids waiting to see what presents were under the tree. As the day unfolded, the gifts poured over us, again and again, from the people we met, to the energy we felt. I remember three of those gifts very distinctly.

Seeing heroes like Diane Nash and C.T. Vivian. They never became as famous as Dr. King and Congressman John Lewis, but they did help organize the 1965 march, so I knew a little about both of them, and it was a thrill just to catch a glimpse. Then and now, they’ve been nothing if not principled in their lifelong dedication to non-violence, and principled in their belief that fighting for civil rights means fighting for everyone’s civil rights, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

 Meeting the wonderful Betty Tyler in downtown Selma. Betty was with her daughters, craning their necks to try to see President Obama as he spoke. She lives in Selma now, as she did as a teenager back in 1965. She remembers watching the marchers and organizers pass between her house and the bridge. Although she doesn’t recall much more than that, she does remember that her intense fear co-existed with the realization that she was watching history being made. As we talked to her, her three daughters stood by proudly, all with tears in their eyes.

 Walking up to and over the bridge. One side of the bridge empties out into downtown Selma, and, from that side, you can’t see over the top of the bridge. As we walked up to the bridge from downtown, and then passed over the Alabama River, we began to realize all that had happened on the bridge and what it stood for. As we reached the highest point, we could see to the other side of the river, and to the exact spot where the marchers met the billy clubs, attack dogs, and fire hoses. Is it possible that they believed so deeply in what they stood for that they marched right into what they knew could have meant death? I was awe struck, and so inspired.

 Congressman Lewis said, “You cannot be afraid to speak up and speak out for what you believe. You have to have courage, raw courage.”

 Boy, isn’t that the truth? On that day, the marchers’ courage changed the country. I am humbled and honored to have been in Selma, and I pray daily that I can have just a touch of the courage that those folks have had their entire lives. What a gift that would be!


David Gillespie

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