Black Voters Matter (BVM) joined local and national partners in Alabama for a commemoration of the 57th anniversary of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery March in partnership with the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee. Beginning on March 3, BVM and several national organizations led days of action along the 54-mile route from Selma to Montgomery as part of the “Return to the Bridge: Fight for the Vote!” The week-long event kicked off with a ceremonial re-enactment of the 1965 Edmund Pettus Bridge Crossing in Selma with Vice President Kamala Harris.
Black Voters Matter’s “Day of Action” on March 9th included hundreds of local residents, national supporters and HBCU students rallying around voting rights as well as other social justice issues. The day consisted of a press conference, teach-ins and a rally. Fenton was on the ground with BVM to support these activities. The following highlights moments and lessons from the day:
- Bringing history to life. Most of the day took place in Lowndes County, Alabama, a rural area near Montgomery, to draw greater attention to the local history and impact of this county in the national civil rights movement. Here’s why: At the time of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, there were only a handful of registered Black voters in Lowndes County, even though Black people composed 85 percent of the county’s population. As more Black residents engaged in voting activity, several Black sharecroppers were kicked off the land by white landowners, which resulted in the creation of a tent city. Meant to be a place of resistance, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Lowndes County leaders helped several dispossessed families stay together and remain in the county by setting up a “tent city” on Black-owned land located on U.S. Highway 80. They bought tents, cots, heaters, food, and water and helped several families turn “tent city” into a temporary home while they organized to find new jobs and permanent housing. BVM invited local historians and residents to share this story with marchers as part of a “Teach-In.”
- Rallying national partners around local issues. BVM invited several national civil and voting rights partner organizations to join them on the ground, elevating the march and its local history to their networks and lifting up their own local and national work for greater impact. National partners on the ground included: The Workers Circle, League of Women Voters, Declaration for American Democracy, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Transformative Justice Coalition, the People for the American Way, among others.
- The power of youth voice. Hundreds of students from 13 HBCUs led the way during the march, keeping participants engaged and energized. Students came from as far away as Howard University in D.C. and Savannah State University in GA.
- The heart of the voting rights movement – then and now. BVM has deep roots in Alabama and so does the history of the voting rights movement. The dangerous Shelby v. Holder decision, which gutted the Voting Rights Act, began with a complaint from Alabama. The state’s Republican-led legislature introduced 27 bills to restrict voting last year (eight of which passed). This year’s Merrill v. Milligan Supreme Court decision reinstates Alabama voting maps that have been widely criticized for diluting Black votes. Alabama remains a critical part of our national fight for voting rights – both then and now.
- The road ahead. While on the ground in Alabama, Black Voters Matter announced the launch of “One Million for Voting Rights,” a digital campaign to mobilize one million people to the streets and the polls ahead of this year’s critical midterm elections. The campaign encourages voters and community members from across the U.S. to sign an online pledge urging them to use their collective power in the fight for voting rights. You can sign here.