Gail Alexander sipped a hot cup of coffee early Sunday morning in Columbus while awaiting buses going to Selma, Ala.
Even with frigid temperatures, she was charged and ready to go.
“I normally would be at church on a Sunday morning, but this is church to us,” she said, huddling with loved ones in the early hours of the morning. “We’re just going to have a hallelujah good time.”
Such was the spirit Sunday as hundreds of Columbus residents traveled to Selma to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.
The largest group of more than 250 people gathered before dawn at the Kmart parking lot on Macon Road. Organized by the Muscogee County Democratic Committee, the group consisted of members of the local party, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Southern Anti-Racism Network and other organizations. It was a predominantly black crowd that spanned generations.
Some wore “Bloody Sunday” anniversary T-shirts, while others sported Martin Luther King Jr. buttons.
The group began gathering before 5:30 a.m. and waited patiently for the trip to start. But the buses, which were scheduled to depart at 6 a.m., left about two hours late. An hour and a half later, the group stopped in Montgomery to eat a southern-style breakfast at the Farmer’s Market Café. The restaurant, which is usually closed on Sunday, opened just for the occasion.
Organizers said the chartered buses from the Tystanic bus company were delayed because some had come from a Georgia state high school championship that went into overtime.
Jacqueline Vines, 60, said she arrived two and a half hours before departure because she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to participate in the historical event. Though disappointed about the late start, she was still looking forward to the experience.
Vines said she had her own racial struggles growing up in Five Points, Ala., and has wanted to go to Selma since she was a child.
“When I was 12 years old, I made history in Five Points, integrating the school,” she said. “There were only three of us being spat on with spitballs. They didn’t allow me and my cousin to have separate desks. We had to cling all day holding on to one another until the end of the school day. I feel I made history in my small town. So that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to make this trip “
Clifton Taylor, a 12-year-old fifth-grader from Brewer Elementary School, sat on the bus with seven other children in the Turn Around Columbus program, which tutors children in elementary school. He said the organization took them to see the movie, “Selma,” two weeks ago and he learned a lot.
“It wasn’t just black people marching across the bridge, there were some white people,” he said. “It showed me that all people are not what you think they are.”
Merle Bailey’s son, Isaiah Reed, is also part of the program. He’s 11 years old and a student at MLK Elementary School. Bailey said she considered it an honor to share such a monumental occasion with her son.
“Martin Luther King Jr. walked over this bridge and people were all in one accord,” she said. “I never thought of being in a place like this and experiencing something like this, but to experience it with my son is very important..”
She said many parents are neglecting to pass on the history to their children, but she hopes that changes.
Alexander’s sister, Gwenetta Echols, is the 59-year-old matriarch of the family. She said the trip to Selma is all about paying respect to those who paved the way for future generations.
“I have followed the civil rights movement for a very long time,” she said. “I’m proud of the people who marched in 1965 and I want them to know I appreciate what they did. We’ve come a long way and we wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for them.”
Alexander said people are still experiencing many injustices and it’s important to continue the struggle.
“Bloody Sunday is not just today, it’s 365 days of the year,” she said. ”Hopefully, being here today will be the beginning of us united as one.”
Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.