Selma-bound Memphians ready to roll

TSD reporter on board to chronicle the trip.

Wiley Henry | 3/5/2015, 11:49 a.m.
TSD reporter on board to chronicle the trip.
Elaine Lee Turner was 20 years old in 1965 when Selma’s “Bloody Sunday” left an indelible imprint on the nation’s conscience. On Sunday, she will return to Selma with a busload to commemorate the 50th anniversary. (Courtesy photo)

Wiley Henry

Wiley Henry

Elaine Lee Turner didn’t need words to describe the pandemonium that broke out on U.S. Route 80 in Selma, Ala. However, those who reported the news on March 7, 1965, and thereafter, were calling that moment in history “Bloody Sunday.”

On that fateful day, more than 600 civil rights marchers were pummeled with billy clubs and tear-gassed in a horrendous show of force by state and local lawmen hell-bent on stopping the determined marchers from crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge into neighboring Montgomery.

Turner, a 20-year-old junior at LeMoyne College that year, wasn’t there on Bloody Sunday, but was disturbed nonetheless by those horrific images of wanton injustice at the behest of law enforcement.

“They just wanted the right to vote,” said Turner, who heeded the call from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to join the nationwide throng of freedom fighters for a third attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery’s state capitol.

Although the 54-mile Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights ended tragically the first time, Turner was among the sea of freedom fighters making their presence felt and their demands known. Those images of Bloody Sunday, however, still tug at Turner every now and then.

On Sunday (March 8th), Turner, the owner of Heritage Tours of Memphis, will return to Selma with a busload to commemorate Bloody Sunday and to reenact that pivotal moment in history 50 years ago that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

A reporter from The New Tri-State Defender will also be among the group to offer a unique perspective via Twitter feed, photos and news stories to reflect the journey from Memphis to Selma and back.

The pre-march rally will start at Brown Chapel AME Church, the site of the now famous march in 1965. Marchers will also cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma and return for a rally at the foot of the bridge to salute the “foot soldiers.”

In 1965, Turner was stirred to action before the fight for justice, freedom and equality was beginning to gain traction. She is still just as spry, dedicated and duty-bound to make life better for African Americans in 2015. The trip to Selma, she said, is a reminder of how far African Americans have come.

“It’s hard to describe my feelings now,” said Turner, who was arrested numerous times in the ’60s for participating in the civil rights movement. Many of her siblings were arrested a number of times as well, which caught the nation’s attention as a family of freedom fighters.

“In reflecting on the beatings and severity in 1965 Selma, we won our rights,” said Turner, “but some of them are being challenged today.”

African Americans, she said, should not put aside their marching shoes. “We still have to march to maintain the rights that we fought so hard for. We have to be the guardians of those rights and not take them for granted.”

Turner alluded to today’s justice system and its inability to administer justice in the recent wave of police-associated deaths involving young African-American men. Cases in point: Michael Brown Jr., Eric Garner and Tamir Rice.

“We’ve fought for a lot of rights, but there is still trouble in our justice system,” Turner said. “We just have to continue the struggle.”