"Happy Bloody Sunday" seems like the worst greeting ever.
Leonard Pitts on Selma + 50. The event and President Obama's speech are inspiring, but...
There were no commemorative t-shirts for sale here in 1965.
There were none the first time voting rights activists sought to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on a march to Montgomery, only to be clubbed and brutalized in a police riot that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” Nor the second time they tried, when Martin Luther King led marchers from all over the country out onto that bridge, prayed, and then led them back into town, an event that came to be known as “Turnaround Tuesday.” Nor the third time when, under federal protection, they crossed the bridge and marched four days to the state capital, where King gave one of the most inspired orations of his life ...
No t-shirts for sale back then bearing likenesses of King or Malcolm X or, obviously, President Barack Obama. It is an oversight they seem intent on rectifying at the 50th anniversary commemoration. There is an unmistakable air of the carnival to this affair. You can buy t-shirts not only of those men, but also, for some reason, of Michael Jackson.
Nor is that all. You can also buy buttons, candy apples, lipstick, fruity drinks in frilly plastic glasses, barbecue, roasted corn, fish, dresses, earrings and glow sticks like you’d find at the circus. It cost $20 just to cross a barricade to within a couple blocks of the bridge.
One is loathe to criticize citizens of a poor and hardscrabble town for turning a buck any legal way they can. Still, all that unrestrained commerce feels ... odd. It has the effect of turning the day into not just a commemoration of America then, but a wry commentary on America now, on the seriousness, or lack thereof, of its people. We celebrate the courage of those who crossed the bridge 50 years ago, but how many of us, walking down Broad St., sipping fruity drinks and wearing our Michael Jackson t-shirts, would have the resolve and firmness of purpose to do the same thing now?
In a nation where the deaths of men and boys like Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin are fresh wounds and the Justice Department just quantified the blatant racism of the police department in Ferguson, Mo., the question is not an idle one.
That question: would you put yourself on the line for the rights of others, is one that we should all face. Often.
Ok. Spring forward past the squiggle to read more punditry.