This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the historic marches in Selma that paved the way for the civil rights movement and the passage of the Voters Right Act.
Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams want to bring the spirit of Selma to New York City, and are planning a march across the Brooklyn Bridge Saturday, followed by a viewing of President Obama’s speech from Selma at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Siegel said he planned to organize a New York delegation to Selma, but was disappointed last weekend to find out all the local hotels in Alabama were booked. On Tuesday, Siegel and Adams decided to bring Selma to Brooklyn.
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“You usually need a week, if not more, to organize something like this … even if it’s 100 people, it’s important,” said Siegel, adding he’s expecting up to 200 marchers.
Siegel, who marched in Selma in 1967, said this year’s anniversary is a reminder of civil rights progress, but also the obstacles that remain, such as voting restrictions in some states, racism in police departments and the need for grand jury reforms.
“Until government officials admit there’s a racial problem, we’re not realistically going to be able to overcome the problem,” Siegel said.
“In some ways, the issues 50 years ago were clearer, more elemental. Today, in a place like New York and other urban areas, racism is more sophisticated and more subtle,” Siegel said. “Back then it was black and white; Today it’s more gray,” Siegel said.
“50 years later, Selma is no longer a city, it is a belief, that people have the right to be free from persecution, live the lifestyles they desire, marry who they want, have access to affordable housing, be free from unlawful stop and frisk,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “We hope everyone finds their own Pettus bridge.”
L. Joy Williams, president of the Brooklyn NAACP, said she hopes Saturday’s turnout is diverse, and that it’s important for the country as a whole to remember Selma. Williams said she’s expecting Obama to “connect” recent findings by the Justice Department and impact of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Those of us who do this work look objectively at the strategies that worked in the previous movements, not just the 1960s, but the abolitionist and other movements across our history as a way to be able to learn and move forward in different ways using the new tools we have available,” said Williams, adding the importance of connecting with older activists and hearing their stories.
Lineup begins on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, and the march starts at 11:30.