In 1965, Selma, Alabama became the focus of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conferences’ efforts to register African American voters in the South. However, Martin Luther King Jr. and the SCLC was opposed by Alabama Governor George Wallace. As a result, Dallas County’s local county sheriff led an opposition against the voter registration.
The march symbolized the national outcry as the images of the events that transpired outside Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965 circulated the country. On this day, dubbed “Bloody Sunday,” police used tear gas and nightsticks on a group of 600 unarmed protestors. The national outrage continued to gain steam until it ultimately culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
On March 7, 2015 a ceremony was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. This event was attended by President Obama as well as many congressional representatives. The Selma Anniversary Ceremony was the final stop on a tour of destinations for a particular group of Seattleites.
From March 1 – 8, a group of 52 Seattle area residents made a pilgrimage through the Deep South. The pilgrimage covered over a dozen significant sites in Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama, and was led by the Chair of Communications for the University of Washington, David Domke.
“To understand what happened in Selma, one must learn what came before and after it, marches, bus boycotts, sit-ins, lynchings, burning of black churches, campus unrest, court decisions and political struggles that continue today,” said Domke.
Among the group of pilgrims were representatives from Bellevue College’s student government including Student and Chief Justice Joel Allen, Associate Justice of External Affairs Austin White and Campus Life and Representative Maria Jimenez. These BC participants attended a similar pilgrimage last year, and the group pooled their experiences to enrich the understanding of the trip’s first time members.
“I look in the mirror and I look at some of their photographs and they look just like me. I’m a direct beneficiary of what they’ve done,” said Allen.
The last several years have had a series of incidents that received prolific media attention, spurring a larger national discussion about civil rights in the 21st century. The cases of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Gardner represent three of the many issues related to racism and social justice. Furthermore, a 2013 Supreme Court ruling affected the very same Voting Rights Act that was secured as a result of Bloody Sunday.
“The reality is that it’s probably harder to vote now than at any time since 1965,” said Domke.
Domke organized the pilgrimage in an attempt to honor the sacrifices made during the Civil Rights Movement as well as spread awareness, further education and spur discussions on Civil Rights issues.
Returning to Seattle, the pilgrims had an evening of reflection on March 12 at the Seattle Central Library, promoting community engagement through storytelling and music.
Domke plans to lead two similar pilgrimages anually through 2018. Additionally, Domke will hold a five part lecture series at UW to speak about his experiences on the pilgrimage, promote future pilgrimages and discuss current civil rights issues.
“If you think of yourself as being [a] progressive state, you need to be on the front lines of fighting for opportunities for all people,” said Domke.