Selma 50th Anniversary: How Far We've Come

In order to make progress, we need to reexamine how far we have truly come.

Thousands march on Selma, Alabama bridge

This weekend marked the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the Selma marchers’ first attempt to march to Montgomery, Alabama in protest of the lack of voting rights for African-Americans. To commemorate this historic event this weekend thousands walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where peaceful demonstrators were beaten by Alabama state troops in 1965. In his powerful speech, President Barack Obama said how the release of the federal civil rights investigation into Ferguson, Missouri's police department last week demonstrated how much work on race needed to be done in the United States, but the president also suggested the report doesn’t negate the progress we have made.

Obama speaking at Bloody Sunday march

“Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer,” Obama said.

While we as a nation have come far since 1965, we still face significant challenges in hurdling racial discrimination from the U.S. Ferguson and the extension of police brutality, limited economic and educational opportunities and social segregation are many of the issues we continue to have that are deeply embedded and systematically rooted in our modern society. In order for us to progress, we need to look at what has changed since the implementation of the Voting Rights Act and that historic march to Montgomery and what has not.

Voting Rights

During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act was passed to prohibit racial discrimination in the U.S. However, this landmark piece of legislation faces significant threats from politicians who refuse to reenact the full power of the Voting Rights Act.

“Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed,” Obama said. “Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence . . . stands weakened.”


Lost Promise of School Integration, New York Times, map of school segregation

While segregation based on race has been abolished in the U.S., today’s version of segregation is a lot less direct and visible. Instead we see a pattern of segregation based on income that separates the economically disadvantaged and the white elite. De facto segregation is alive and well with black communities experiencing limited educational opportunities, poor housing and health inequities all because the status quo plagues communities of color to stay in the impoverished area of cities without much opportunity for advancement.

wealth gap between African Americans and whites

Police brutality

Generally speaking we see less Bloody Sundays, but the continued trend of police brutality against individuals of color and peaceful protesters (that has finally received more media coverage and public awareness) remains the norm in our society.

As you can tell, while we have made certain strides in eliminating racism and discrimination, we still have a long way to go. The U.S. is more aware and active in addressing and fighting the problem of race, but we remain a nation where white supremacy overwhelmingly dominates.

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