Brown Chapel AME Church is located in Selma, Alabama and was the starting point for the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, a distance of about 54 miles, which were attempting to bring attention to the disparities in voting rights.
The first of those marches ended on March 7, 1965, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, only six blocks from the Brown Chapel, when the organizers and participants were attacked by police and bystanders. That day became known as Bloody Sunday, but it did not stop the marches. A second attempt, with Dr. King and 2,000 others was attempted on March 9, but a federal restraining order had been issued prohibiting the march, so Dr. King and the others stopped at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, once again met by police, knelt and prayed, then returned to Brown Chapel in order to prevent another bloody attack on those marching. Even so, that night, a white Unitarian minister who came in support of the marchers was beaten and died two days later, but again, the marchers were not deterred, and on March 21 a third attempt was made and succeeded. It took five days, with the marchers covering between 7 and 17 miles per day. The ruling that allowed them to march stated that only 300 individuals could be marching at any one time, but on the last day, the number swelled to 25,000, and it concluded on the steps of the capitol building in Montgomery. It was there that Dr. King gave one of his memorable speeches.
He began by speaking of the journey and said, “Our bodies are tired and our feet are somewhat sore,” but then he went on to say, “But today as I stand before you and think back over that great march, I can say, as Sister Pollard said—a seventy-year-old Negro woman who lived in this community during the bus boycott—and one day, she was asked while walking if she didn’t want to ride. And when she answered, ‘No,’ the person said, ‘Well, aren’t you tired?’ And with her ungrammatical profundity, she said, ‘My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.’ And in a real sense this afternoon, we can say that our feet are tired, but our souls are rested.”
A little later he said, “The battle is in our hands. And we can answer with creative nonviolence the call to higher ground to which the new directions of our struggle summons us. The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going.” And keep going they did.
Were they successful? On August 6 of that year, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In doing so, he referred to the preceding events as ‘‘the outrage of Selma,’’ and stated that the right to vote was ‘‘the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.’’
That was fifty-two years ago and what I find so confusing is the fact that it is still necessary to have this conversation. That the same attitudes and prejudices still plague our society. And they do. How do I know? Because most all of those with white skin had to come to “this side of town” in order for us to go to church together. Because Rev. Hall and I, and the rest of these ministers have to sit down and plan events, so that we can all come together to worship the God and Father OF US ALL.
In his speech in in Selma, Dr. King said, “I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ Somebody’s asking, ‘How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?’” He answered, “Not long”, but here we are, fifty-two years later. But we won’t give up. Why? Because “Our feet may be tired, but our souls are rested.” Therefore, let us put Jesus’ words into practice and put our hands to the plow and not look back, and continue seeking the same society that Dr. King was seeking when he spoke on those capitol steps. “A society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man’’