March marked the 50-year Anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march across the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge. The bridge-crossing jubilee takes place every March, commemorating the historic milestone in 1965. I was lucky enough to be among the 80,000 people who shared in this momentous occasion. While there, I got the chance to speak with some inspiring people from different walks of life.
One that stood out was Tomika Rayford. Rayford not only believes in the history of Selma, she was part of it. She was part of the Selma High School graduating class of 1990. Though Rayford now resides in Memphis, she will always be a Selma girl. But it was not until an outing with friends, that she realized just how uneducated people were in the history of the small town.
Not too long ago, Rayford and six friends decided to have a girls’ night out. They went to see “Selma,” a historical drama inspired by the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965. Then Rayford and company went to dinner and discussed the film. But for Rayford, it was more a discussion of historical clarification.
“What I found really profound was that the people I went with thought that Dr. [Martin Luther] King was in the Bloody Sunday march, the one that happened before the Selma to Montgomery march. I realized, at that moment during our conversation, just how little the world knows about the historical impact of Selma.
“With the events surrounding the Civil Rights movement, I grew up learning the facts about it. It’s really become second nature to me, but it is kind of a shock to my system to go outside of the demographic and realize that there is very little knowledge in the world about the significance and impact of this small town, and the civil rights that are taken for granted in the world.”
“Selma is home to me,” Rayford said. ”This is the place that I call home. I have a house in another city, but this is the place that raised me.”
In a town that was in the forefront for voter equality, Rayford feels more than fortunate to have the right to vote. For a Selma native, voting eligibility was almost as equally coveted as receiving one’s driver’s license.
“In 1990, while I was in school, it was one of those things that you anticipated,” Rayford said. “You wanted to turn 18. You were ready to have that right in your hands.” While the march celebrates its 50-year anniversary, Rayford said the world is constantly progressing and regressing.Selma was just one milestone.
I think we are always moving forward,” Rayford said. “But how far we’re moving is really dependent on the people and where you live.”
While voter equality has grown significantly since the Civil Rights area, there are still laws that have been put into effect that can restrict potential voters. Rayford believes that this will cause the country to regress, rather than move forward.
Clarence Wilson sat outside of the Sweet Advantages Ice Cream Shop on his recliner. While the line to the shop extended out the door, he faced the Edmund Pettus Bridge, taking a bite out of his ice cream cone. This will be his twentieth time visiting Selma to participate in the bridge-crossing jubilee. Wilson had heard about the annual event in his younger days in Philadelphia. Some of his closest friends told him about their annual pilgrimages to the South; he’s been coming ever since. Crossing the bridge was a feeling that he could not articulate, other than the feeling of being a citizen—a person willing to contribute to society.
“We are losing our history,” Wilson said. “So many things go into these events. If you get insight, you will appreciate it.”
This is an insight that he plans on passing on to his offspring. Since 1998, his two children have joined him in his walk. They stand by his side, watching the live pre-march sermon being telecast from Brown Chapel African American Methodist Episcopal Church on the projection screens from afar.
Like her other order of the Eastern Star sisters, Roseland Guyton is dressed in all white. At 69, she has seen it all. While her sisters congregate with one another, she enjoys a spot in the shade, waiting for the march to begin. She is proud of this year’s turnout.
“First, people are coming together ’cause you can tell many people are coming down,” Guyton said.
She has been voting since the young age of 21, and now works at the polls in Ethelsville, Alabama as a means to encourage others to do the same.
LaBorn Brown, a sophomore at the University of Alabama, joined his family for the first time in Selma. Brown is perched on a railing, alone, while the Freemasons around him converse. His father is one; he is not. While excited, he also expressed a certain amount of melancholy. As a millennial marching across the bridge, he felt more like a tourist than a participant.
“It’s one thing to be here,” Brown said. “But it is another thing to live it.” Brown was referring to the original 600 foot soldiers, led by John Lewis, that crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge to be turned around by state troopers. Those that refused were beaten or shot with tear gas.
“I’m just really fortunate,” Brown said, reflecting on all that had come before.

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