March 06 2015

Fort Worth Star Telegram: Heading to Selma — Looking back, looking ahead

There’s no place that U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey would rather be this weekend than Selma, Ala.

The Fort Worth Democrat will be among thousands following in the footsteps of those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago on a historic civil-rights march to Montgomery that helped lead to the Voting Rights Act.

And he hopes that the struggles endured by peaceful protesters on what became known as “Bloody Sunday” can continue to bring about change. Police tried to break up the march by using tear gas and beating and chasing participants.

“With the 50th anniversary and everything going on right now with voter ID laws being passed and shady redistricting plans being passed … this is an opportunity to reflect back on history, learn the lessons and apply them to today,” said Veasey, who will join a bipartisan congressional delegation at this weekend’s events. “I hope we can finally get past inequities.”

The lawmakers will be among tens of thousands who will make their way to Selma for the 50th anniversary, including President Barack Obama, who will visit the bridge Saturday and speak to the crowd.

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, are also expected.

“While we have made great strides, we still have some issues here, particularly when it comes to voting and access to the ballot box,” said Veasey, who was among those who sued to try to block the Texas voter ID law approved by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011. “There are still some things that need to be fixed.”

The Rev. Kyev Tatum hopes this weekend inspires the next generation.

“We believe many of our young boys … are engaged in criminal activity or are misguided because there’s a hole in their souls … that connects to their history,” said Tatum, who is joining Bryant Pearson, founder of the Bowtie Boys Mentoring Program, and dozens of area young men on a bus trip to Selma. “They come from a heritage of people who withstood slavery, Jim Crow … and the test of time.

“The issue right now is many of them believe they cannot succeed, but when they see the struggles their ancestors had to overcome … the light will come on,” said Tatum, who heads the Tarrant County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “Their souls will connect. And they will begin to feel the fire that was in many of them.”

‘A long way to go’

Tatum and Pearson will also visit other landmarks, including the 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

“Those who suffered, their spirits still cry out to us: ‘Stand up and be counted,’” Tatum said. “There is still a long way to go, but we cannot discount how far we’ve come.

“We are hoping [the young men] will come back with their souls alive.”

FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAM / ANNA M. TINSLEY