Civil Rights leaders and politicians, including Martin Luther King III and Vice President Kamala Harris, link arms as they walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in commemoration of the 57th anniversary of Bloody Sunday (AP Photo).

By AFRO Staff

The date was March 7, 1965. Change was hot on the heels of Jim Crow and even the Alabama heat beating overhead and steaming from the pavement was no deterrent for those gathered: a march for freedom from Selma to Montgomery would happen no matter the cost.

According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, nearly 600 people marched and were terrorized by Alabama State Troopers and Dallas County Sheriff’s deputies on what has become widely known as “Bloody Sunday.”  The brutal treatment of the marchers led to 17 hospitalizations and 50 others being treated for milder injuries.

Ruth Cummings was 13 years old the day Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Amelia Boynton Robinson and hundreds of other Americans fighting for equality took to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Children in tow, Cummings’ mother made sure she was on the frontlines of the fight for human and civil rights. 

“My mother became a part of the movement when she agreed to transport freedom riders to and from mass meetings,” said Cummings. “At first, we as children were not allowed to participate in the demonstrations as we called them. We were not allowed to attend the mass meetings or participate in any other activities until the adults of the movement were being beaten, losing their jobs, and threatened on every turn. Then the leaders of the movement decided to use children, perhaps the sheriff and his deputies would not harm children.”

Ruth Cummings was 13 years old when she marched with her mother and brother from Selma, Ala. to Montgomery, Ala. on March 7, 1965. (Photo Courtesy)

At 70 years old, Cummings can still detail events that took place on the march to Montgomery, a multi-day effort that took place from March 7, 1965 to March 25, 1965, as marchers attempted the 54-mile journey.

“One vivid memory that we all have of Bloody Sunday is what it looked like to us- smoke coming from the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the news reporters scrambling to find homes with telephones so they could make their reports back to the news stations,” Cummings recounted. 

Richard Valeriani [of] NBC News knocked on our door and asked to use the telephone. My mother let him in. He made his report, then proceeded to give my mother five dollars and a peppermint.”

“My mother was grateful as she had loaned her last two dollars to one of our neighbors earlier that day,” said Cummings. She reminded us “if you are good to others, God will be good to you.”

In the past two or so decades, the federal government and other U.S. leaders have worked to acknowledge Bloody Sunday as a significant part of American history.

In 1996, Congress used the National Trails System Act of 1968 to make the route of the march from Selma to Montgomery a national historic site

Civil Rights leaders, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, noted that this year’s Bloody Sunday commemoration is a time to remember the bravery of those who marched for equal rights and acknowledge the day as a catalyst for American democracy.

As the images of Blood Sunday poured into living rooms around the country and the globe, the violent face of Jim Crow was finally visible to those who considered themselves far removed from the plight of Black Americans. 

“In many ways, Selma is the birthplace of modern democracy in America, helping to secure the right to vote for African-Americans [and] the young,” Jackson tweeted on March 7. 

The legendary activist added that the march from Selma was crucial in “providing the foundation for future battles for equality, including the equal rights of women.”

Visitors to the Edmund Pettus Bridge will forever be reminded of what happened on March 7, 1965. Today, historical markers tell of the courage displayed by those who faced the terror of Bloody Sunday nearly six decades ago. 

There is also a petition to rename the landmark. 
Instead of continuing to honor Confederate leader, legislator and former Alabama Ku Klux Klan leader Edmund Pettus, more than 549,000 Amerians have called for a renaming in honor of the late democratic Congressman from Georgia, John Lewis.

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