Selma 50 years later: Where are we now?

By Abbey Nickel

Saturday was the 50th anniversary of the Selma march for equal voting rights on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The event was led by Martin Luther King Jr. on March 7, 1965, and President Barack Obama and his family accompanied with members of Congress made a symbolic march across the bridge on Saturday in remembrance of the event.

I admit, I didn’t have a lot of interest invested in the march across the bridge until Saturday. I had a couple of friends travel to cover the event for a newspaper I worked for last summer, and I followed their pictures and stories over the weekend on social media.

The stories they told – and the pictures they shared – were powerful and convinced me to think a little more deeply and compassionately about why more than 80,000 people marched across the bridge on Saturday.

After all of this time, the infamous bridge is still there. But the question that I had to ask myself is this: Is the fight over, or is it still ongoing?

The quality of life for black Americans has improved since that day. A large reason for this is because of the voting rights that were finally granted in 1965. King fought incredibly hard for those rights and for that change, and that was a major turning point for black Americans.

Segregation used to be prevalent in private and public places such as restaurants, schools, universities, and department stories. Today they are all granted equal rights to those – at least by law.

But despite legislation and great effort by powerful leaders, discrimination is still alive and well in our country and surrounds all of us every day. While I would love nothing more than to believe that those former struggles are all behind us, that would be naïve.

It’s frustrating to me when people say “why can’t we get past this? Why can’t we move on?” Black Americans still go through so much in this country on a daily basis. There’s no doubt that we have moved forward and we have made tremendous progress. But just take a look at what happened with the Ferguson Police Department, and we’re reminded of why we still need to fight for equality.

The marches through Selma, Alabama last weekend are a powerful testimony to freedom and just how significant it is to continue to fight for equal rights.

Discrimination is a real, ugly truth in our country. It continues to bring out the worst in all of us and it diminishes humanity. It’s a hard pill for many of us to swallow.

But while those marches were 50 years ago, they will not be finished until the worth of every person is honored and acknowledged.

It’s important to recognize the worth and value of everyone, no matter what color, age, or ability. We are all stewards of civil rights. Prejudices occur in our daily lives at school, work, and in our own backyards. They might not escalate to breaking the law or causing serious damage, but we recognize them when we see them. They appear in subtle or blatant ways, such as excluding people or bullying.

These issues may never be completely resolved, but as individuals, we can try to make a difference in the lives around us. When you see something, say something. When we see other human beings being cruel to one another and refuse to say anything, that’s when stereotypes evolve. Protecting and standing up for civil rights starts in our own communities – whether that be right here at UF or in our hometowns.

This issue might seem trite and for some of us, it may seem like it’s being talked about everywhere we go. But it’s something that still deserves to be talked about because 50 years later, it seems that our words are falling on deaf ears. King and his supporters made great strides 50 years ago, but that march is still far from being done.

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