The film Selma is now playing in our local theaters. As the fiftieth anniversary of the march, March 7, approaches, this is a film worth seeing for its historical content as well as for understanding the religious convictions that under-girded the whole civil rights movement.
In the film as in reality, John Lewis and Hosea Williams led the marchers up the left side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Barely over the bridge, they were attacked and beaten by the police and deputies. The world watched the brutality on television. Two weeks later, the world watched again as the marchers, swelled in great numbers by people of faith from all over the country, escorted by the national guard, crossed the bridge again and made it safely to Montgomery, some fifty-five miles to the north.
Since the march, a memorial has been built just to the left side of the bridge where the attack on the marchers took place. I stood before it, awash in awe, in 2000, at the thirty-fifth anniversary march and was vastly moved by the connection made between two events which took place in different parts of the world some three thousand years apart. This simple monument - twelve pitched stones in flowing water- was inspired by the Book of Joshua where the crossing of the Jordan by the Israelites into the Promised Land is described. There, the waters parted, “as the priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord remained motionless on dry ground in the bed of the Jordan until the whole nation had completed the passage.” ( Joshua 3.17) Afterwards, one man from each tribe of Israel was commissioned to go into the water and take up a stone from the spot in the Jordan where the priests with the ark had been standing motionless. At Gilgal, on the east side of Jericho, Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been taken from the Jordan.
"In the future,” Joshua said, “when people ask you the meaning of these stones,
you shall tell them, Israel crossed the Jordan here. (Joshua 4.20-21.)”
President Lyndon Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act some time later that year, 1965. It has stood as a living record of the victory of the non- violent pursuit of human rights. Last year, 2014, the Supreme Court rejected the most substantial first part of that law, leaving states to reframe the prerequisites for voting, largely in states in the deep south.
Do we need another Selma? What will you and I do?
~Sister Joan Sobala