In a moment when presidents and presidential candidates attempt to attract attention and distract from the real issues that everyday people face, communities in Alabama and across the South know what’s up.
For over 30 years, local organizers in Selma, Alabama have commemorated the violent state attacks on peaceful Southern Freedom movement demonstrators at the bottom of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. The Jubilee Bridge Crossing attracts organizers, political leaders, and community members to a weekend of education and remembering.
Since 2007, Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, the founder and leader of The Ordinary People Society (TOPS) based in Dothan, Alabama, has led a “Backwards March” to kickoff the annual bridge crossing. His message is clear. Though Jim Crow segregation was defeated by the Civil Rights Movement, the struggle continues with draconian drug laws and skyrocketing incarceration rates over the last forty years. Pastor Glasgow says, “We cannot forget about all the Black and Brown people locked up in cages or killed by police. Formerly and currently incarcerated people and our families are an essential part of the movement for racial justice today. We have to go back to get it right this time. That’s why we do the Backwards March every year.”
Over 200 people marched with Pastor Glasgow on Sunday, March 3 despite the rain and tornado warnings. The Backwards March took back the bridge back for the people, and a massive die-in made a strong statement about the connections between state repression in 1965 and state brutality in 2019. Presidential hopefuls and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had to wait for the marchers to rise and greet each other in song at the center of the bridge. Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Education & Research Center based in Tennessee said, “In a time when we are fighting for our lives in the streets and for our futures with just and progressive policies, we need to remember people’s movements make the real change we can feel and see.”
The work of TOPS is part of a long continuum of our Southern Freedom Movement, and TOPS has led the fight to secure major victories for voting rights. Alabama is one of only three states in the entire country that allows convicted and incarcerated people to vote due to a lawsuit Pastor Glasgow won in 2008. That re-enfranchisement victory coupled with over 17 years of building leaders, infrastructure, and community power led to the 2017 electoral victory for Jeff Session’s senate seat. “As we step on to the road to 2020, we have to remember it’s a longer road than any one election cycle. Grassroots infrastructure to support leaders like Pastor Glasgow and the members of TOPS represent the true legacy of Southern Freedom Movements and the Black Radical Tradition in this region.” says Stephanie Guilloud, Co-Director of Project South based in Atlanta. Stephanie, Ash-Lee and community leaders from all over the country laid down on that wet bridge on this past Sunday.
Over 100 faith leaders participated in the Pastor’s Breakfast on March 2 and the Women’s Forum gathered powerful women leaders on March 3. TOPS and their partners ensured that the grassroots movements’ struggle for freedom is not only remembered but carried forward into a brighter future.