It was not a difficult thing to sense the fervor and furor of some prominent political activists who, a few days ago, raised their voices to a fortissimo level in their push for a name change for the Edmund Pettus Bridge in historic Selma. Some observers of their efforts might conclude that this is simply a reaction to the brutal killing of George Floyd by a white police officer, while his cohorts gave consent through their silence. However, five years have passed since black leaders in Selma made a strong push for the name change. I stated my opposition to the change through an opinion offering to the Selma Times-Journal. Permit me to share with you a few of the reasons for my opposition.
It was Gov. George C. Wallace who sent Al Lingo and the other state troopers across the bridge to join Sheriff James “Jim” Clark and his posse as they brutalized John Lewis, Amelia Boynton and other peaceful protestors on the bridge. Selma is home to one of several two-year colleges named for Wallace or his wife, but no discomfiture is ever displayed or a name change ever demanded for the institution. The college is led by an African American and boasts a state-of-the-art Hank Sanders Technology Building. Rather than changing the name of the college, leaders have expanded its reach by establishing a Demopolis “branch.”
While pastoring Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in 1982, I joined Southern Christian Leadership Conference marchers as they made a 180-mile trek from Pickens County to the Capitol steps in Montgomery in protest of the unfair treatment of voting rights activists Maggie Bozeman and Julia Wilder. They were respectively sentenced to four years and six years for voter fraud regarding 39 absentee ballots. We did not disband after a photo op at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but continued to Montgomery.
When we finally made it to the St. Jude campus, scores of dignitaries showed up to lead the marchers to the Capitol. However, a police officer asked Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, our leader, if a police decoy could walk in his place, as three Ku Klux Klan members had vowed to kill Lowery before he reached the Capitol.
Lowery refused to travel incognito and told the police to do whatever they could to protect the decoy and to protect him. Instead, I, along with former Selma City Councilman Raymond Majors, walked in front of Lowery and his wife, Evelyn G. Lowery, until we reached Dexter Avenue. I didn’t want to — but was willing to — die for our brave leader. I was so honored when Lowery asked that I give the invocation during the service on the Capitol steps.
I joined attorney Rose Sanders (Faya Rose Toure) and other Selma protesters in demanding a name change to NBF Homes in Dallas County. NBF was in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general who, having lost the Battle of Selma and been wounded, escaped to Tennessee and founded the KKK. Yet, the Housing Authority had several hundred blacks living in a development bearing his name. Any fair-minded person of any political ideology knows that is wrong.
I mentioned the fact that in Montgomery, Dr. Joe Reed’s name was removed from the Acadome at Alabama State University because he made the wrong people mad. I doubt seriously if there would have been an Acadome were it not for Reed, John Knight and others.
I was not in Selma in 1965. However, I have made the journey for righteous reasons several times since 1982. Martyrs are not made by their own actions, but by the inhumane actions of those who oppose them. I have seen people who, having never taken a public position on behalf of the oppressed or having never suffered financial loss on the pretense of a dollar, highjack the struggle for a full measure of freedom. I am not a member of the bourgeoisie band of black leaders who are called upon to tell others what to do during times of financial failings and political posturing.
On Aug. 27, 2015, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, congresswoman for the 7th Congressional District and a member of Brown Chapel, sent a letter to me expressing thanks for my position on maintaining the name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. At the conclusion of her letter she penned, “Rev. Rembert, again thank you for stepping up and voicing your opinion with such authority on issues that are so relevant to the citizens of Selma, Dallas County and the state as a whole. Please continue to stay vigilant and above all, keep submitting those op-eds.”
Although I am a 72 year man with failing health, I’ll try.