As I drove up to the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute (Museum) on Saturday morning, two large buses framed by police cars grabbed my attention. Several policemen stood guard in front of the
Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 4, 2004
When I entered, the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, Bill Frist of Tennessee, was one of those present.
He was accompanied by U.S. Senators George Allen of Virginia, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, and Mike DeWine of Ohio.
The delegation was all Republican but facilitated by Democratic Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday (March 7, 1965).
Other civil rights leaders on the Bridge that fateful Sunday such as Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Dr. F. D. Reese, Bob Mants and Joanne Bland were also present for this occasion and former Congressman/Buffalo Bill’s quarterback Jack Kemp co-facilitated the tour.
The delegation was indeed stellar.
The next morning found me in Butler, Choctaw County, Alabama speaking on Black History at St. Mary United Methodist Church.
My topic was, “The Power of Black History.”
That afternoon I spoke at the Jimmy Lee Jackson Memorial Program in Marion, Perry County, Alabama.
The new Interim National President of SCLC, Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth, was the keynote speaker.
He is an icon among icons in the Civil Rights Movement.
Other leaders from the Civil Rights Movement spoke during the program.
The first and third events are especially noteworthy: the first because leaders not exactly known for positive perspectives on civil rights were on the scene learning; and the third because it commemorates the event that led directly to Bloody Sunday, the Selma to Montgomery March and eventually the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
All three gatherings did something with history that is very important.
History is too often carried on our hearts, minds and spirits, weighing us down.
History is not often enough carried in our hearts, minds and spirits, lifting us higher.
Most often, we seek the middle ground, standing on history, reaching higher and seeing farther.
The gathering at the National Voting Rights Museum was “a standing on history” event.
Majority Leader Frist said, “We are on a learning tour.
We are here to learn.”
As these national leaders learn, they will be able to reach higher and see farther.
We will all be the better for it.
The Memorial Program for Jimmy Lee Jackson brought together many who were lifted by the history carried in their hearts, minds and spirits.
A few were still weighed down by the same history carried on their hearts, minds and spirits.
Most of us simply stood on this history, reaching higher and seeing farther.
The Jimmy Lee Jackson Memorial Program on every third Sunday in February is of special note for another reason: it kicks off the National Voting Rights Celebration.
The Celebration stretches from the Jimmy Lee Jackson event across the Bridge Crossing Jubilee on the first Friday and Saturday in March.
It stretches across the Bloody Sunday Reenactment March on the First Sunday and across the “Slow Ride from Selma to Montgomery” on Monday.
Finally, the National Voting Rights Celebration ends with special events in Montgomery.
Few events have impacted this country as much as the struggle for the Right to Vote.
I wish every person could stand on its history, reaching higher, seeing farther.
Every person, however, is entitled to carry their history as they choose, whether it lifts them up or weights them down.
What lifts one up, sometimes weighs another down.
I hope we find ways for our conflicting histories to lift us all.
It is easy to see that without Jimmy Lee Jackson’s death, the Bloody Sunday and Selma to Montgomery marches and other events, Alabama and America would be far different places.
I would not be a lawyer living and working in the Alabama Black Belt.
I would not be a senator representing Selma, Dallas County, Alabama and adjoining counties.
It is less easy to see but no less true that virtually every leader currently in position would not be so without the Voting Rights Struggle.
Even Bill Frist would not be the senator from Tennessee or the Majority Leader of the United States Senate.
I understand that I do not stand where I am because I am smarter, stronger or better than those who went before me.
I reach higher and see farther only because I stand on their shoulders, struggles and spirits.
We all stand as such, and so we must each reach higher, see farther and lift more.