Voting Rights in Selma, 1965
Black Optimism at Work
“Optimists see the positive side of things. They expect things to turn out well. They believe they have the skill and ability to make good things happen.”
When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke in Selma, Alabama, after the Voting Rights march from Montgomery to Selma on March 25, 1965, people knew at the time African Americans would win the right to vote. King’s voice that day boomed and exuded optimism. He had gathered 25,000 others who marched to demand the right to vote in America.
I am talking about King’s “How Long, Not Long” speech, my favorite of all his speeches. It had been a long struggle, but the battle was joined.
The history of voting rights in America for African Americans is a political war. African Americans had been granted the right to vote after the Civil War, briefly with the Fifteenth Amendment. The country's white supremacists took away those rights. President Andrew Johnson did not bother to ensure those rights. He was openly hostile to African American rights.
In the 20th century, the battle for voting rights was even more intense. Women gained the right to vote in 1912 but not African American women or African Americans. By the 1960s, as African Americans demanded the right to vote and were prepared to die, the struggle got bloody. To press forward, one had to be determined and optimistic. White supremacy is (and was) real, but so is (and was) the Black struggle.
Equal Justice in America
In 1964, during Freedom Summer in Mississippi, three civil rights workers were abducted and murdered for organizing for voting rights for African Americans. They were not the only organizers and protestors murdered in the South fighting for the right to vote.
On March 7, 1965, dozens of civil rights workers were beaten by Alabama state police officers when they peacefully marched at the Edmund Pettus Bridge demanding voting rights. The late John Lewis, Congressmen from Alabama, was nearly killed that day. Images from that day are now etched in our minds.