Columbus residents unite with marchers in Selma

As Donna Morris crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on Sunday, she couldn't help but think about all of those who paved the way for her to be there. Moving along the path amid a throng of marchers, she joined the fight for justice.

"Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around," she sang in solidarity, as the crowd moved with bodies pressed together across the Alabama River.

"I'm standing up here at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and I'm excited because 50 years ago all of this went on," Morris said as she began her march. "Next month I will be 52 and it's a blessing for me to come down here and see the 50th anniversary."

Morris, a Columbus resident, was among tens of thousands who descended on Selma Sunday to commemorate one of the most violent events in the history of the civil rights movement. She was part of a group of more than 250 people to travel on buses chartered by the Muscogee County Democratic Committee.

The bridge that they crossed was once the site of a brutal attack by Alabama law enforcement agencies against 600 nonviolent marchers during a voting rights campaign. But the marchers had no fear as they walked together. They shouted "Hands Up. Don't Shoot," in protest against the recent killings of unarmed black men by police, and they vowed to continue the struggle.

The commemoration filled the streets of Selma with a group of people from various racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds which spanned generations.

Clifton Taylor, a 12-year-old fifth-grader from Brewer Elementary School, traveled from Columbus as part of Turn Around Columbus, a program that tutors children in elementary school.

"My experience going across the bridge was a good experience," he said. "And the good thing about us going across the bridge is that we have the right to go across the bridge now because of Martin Luther King."

The streets became so packed that state troopers eventually had to halt marchers from crossing over the bridge, and they blocked some buses from meeting groups on the other side.

For many Columbus marchers, that meant crossing the bridge twice, which wasn't popular with many people. Dorothy Boden said she doesn't like bridges but was willing to go with the flow.

"I imagine trying to manage this big crowd and all these buses isn't easy," she said. "From what I heard, Selma didn't anticipate this big of a crowd."

Throughout the march there were also several instances where emergency vehicles stopped the march to take people out on stretchers.

There were a few other glitches on the trip organized by the Muscogee County Democratic Committee. The buses, which were scheduled to depart Columbus at 6 a.m. Sunday, left about two hours late. 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.

The buses also left a couple of hours late, returning to Columbus because of the crowd control issues and a missing passenger who was eventually found.

Still, most Columbus residents said they were happy to be there.

Jacqueline Vines, 60, 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."

Merle Bailey's son, Isaiah Reed, is also a part of the Turn Around Columbus 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."

Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.