Imagine the year is 1965. The place is Selma. You are among those who have assembled at the now infamous bridge. You are there to protest being dehumanized all your life, being made to feel you are less than a dog. But how can you show your disdain for the indignities you have suffered? You are not a lawyer celebrated for your eloquence. You are not a statesman whose mere name can open the gates to the White House. No, you are none of these. Instead, you are a butler, or a maid, or a janitor, or a shoeshine boy – a nobody. In spite of your status, there is one thing you can do. You can walk, be a presence, be visible.
The dangers are many. You might be killed, bludgeoned to death, trampled by the hooves of horses, or sickened by clouds of gas. But you reason that subjected to the whiplash of discrimination, you are not really living anyway. In fact, barely existing. Better, you say to yourself, to live standing than to die on your knees, knowing that you are robbed of your dignity. So you are there on the bridge.
The clash begins. You hear the thud of nightsticks cracking skulls. You hear the shrill shriek of women. You hear them calling out. “Sweet Jesus, save me.” “Don’t let me die, Lord. Don’t let me die.” You see mounds of humans struggling to their feet, only to be hammered back to the pavement. Then you hear an inner voice whisper, “Today you will die.” You see flashes of Jim Crow signs: “Colored to the rear.” “White drinking fountain.” You see yourself denied a Coke at a café. And again you hear the voice sighing, “Today you will die.”
The irony is you are one who believes in the nation’s credo: all men are created equal. Those with the clubs, tear gas and dogs make a mockery of the belief. You have come to the bridge because of your faith in that belief, to even lay down your life if need be for that credo.
As you read this, you are probably saying, “But I was not on that bridge.” To you I say, “You are wrong. You were on that bridge on that historic day.” We all were on the bridge. On there with the patriots who were clubbed. None of us will ever leave that bridge in Selma. Ever.