Crossing bridges together

March 9th, 2015

This article is part of Ministry Matters' ongoing collection of responses to President Obama's Selma speech. Follow the project as it grows and join the discussion at

The indelible images of the bridge crossing fifty years ago have been reinforced by Ava DuVernay's Academy Award nominated film "Selma."  In addition to DuVernay's poignant film, innumerable images in film, photographs and personal accounts have held the events of March 7, 1965, known as Bloody Sunday, close to our view, thus not too far from our consciousness, for the last half century.  

President Barack Obama's Speech on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches recasts before our gaze (and, I pray, our deepest thinking) the horrific and heroic imagery of those unforgettable events. These events form the evolving narrative of Civil Rights in the United States, a narrative which continues to evolve, sometimes ever so slowly, as evidenced in Ferguson and in far too many places across today's U.S. landscape.   

Obama waxed sermonically in his speech about the significance of fifty years past. He said, 

"...there are places and moments in America where this nation's destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war — Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg. Others are the sites that symbolize the daring of America's character — Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral. Selma is such a place. In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of turbulent history — the stain of slavery and the anguish of civil war, the yoke of segregation and the tyranny of Jim Crow, the death of four little girls in Birmingham and the dream of a Baptist preacher — all that history met on the bridge." 

What happened on that bridge in Selma fifty years ago certainly didn't stay on that bridge. And, I would suggest, those who crossed Selma's bridge fifty years past ask us not only to remember their crossing but to give thought and prayer to the ways in which we consider those who cross bridges in our own time. And we, I would equally suggest, should give thought to the last time we crossed such a bridge ourselves. Surely there are many bridges yet to be crossed. 

Obama continues: 

"As we commemorate [the marchers'] achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, or half-breeds, or outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse — they were called everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. Their lives were threatened. Their patriotism challenged."

The President adds: 

"That's why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That's why it's not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents: 'We the order to form a more perfect union.' 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

Surely we are indebted to all who have crossed the bridges before us, bridges in our cul-de-sacs, our lanes, our streets, throughout our neighborhoods, urban, suburban and rural. And in our indebtedness, as President Obama reminds us, the least we can do is to call them by name. The very least we can do is to call them by the names they were given by their parents. 

I think of the many bridges yet to be crossed throughout this great country of ours. I believe if we hold the Selma crossing close to our hearts (not from a distance) and remember the bravery and the commitment of those who crossed that bridge fifty years ago, then perhaps we will be more inclined to honor the names given to us and make a similar crossing in our own day, across our own bridges.

Our bridges provide an important symbol for the ways in which our land and our lives are connected. And what a wonderful place for us to gather and what an important opportunity we have to cross the bridges across our land and across our lives, together. And there, history we will meet, and history we will make, too.

comments powered by Disqus