April 1, 2015
Last month, 70,000 people — including the current and former presidents of the United States and a congressional delegation — gathered in Selma, Alabama, to honor the 50th anniversary of March 7, 1965, an important day for American civil rights. On that day, protestors set out for the first time to march from Selma to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery to protest what they saw as the unjust treatment of African-American citizens who were attempting to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
In 1965, Ted Jones was a freshman at Aurora College in Illinois. One week after March 7, known historically as “Bloody Sunday,” Ted attended a religious service in Chicago to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. Ted had mixed feelings about King and was very curious about the civil rights leader. Ted’s father thought of King as a communist and a man of violence.
Ted was “pleasantly surprised” by King’s message. “He simply gave a sermon,” says Ted. “He never mentioned civil rights,” even though the events on March 7 had been so politically charged.
When JohnAlan Boryk, an Aurora classmate, invited Ted to join him and three other classmates on their trip to Selma to join the third march, it was because of Ted’s positive experience in Chicago that he said he wanted to go. However, JohnAlan told him he had to get his parents’ permission. Ted’s father did not approve and Ted was forced to remain at Aurora. “I felt so bad that I couldn’t go,” Ted remembers.
But half a century later, when JohnAlan called Ted and asked him if he wanted to go to Selma for the 50th anniversary commemoration, Ted was able and excited to say yes.
Ted and JohnAlan arrived a few days before March 7 to visit the sites. Ted says they walked the bridge several times and enjoying the days they were able to be in that part of the country. Ted was surprised to see how little has changed in Selma since the late 60s. Despite its historical significance, and being the location of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, Selma is still a very small, unremarkable town. “Selma’s so poor. There’s not much there,” remarks Ted.
The anniversary day, Ted and JohnAlan arrived early for the event. An original marcher, JohnAlan was interviewed by several news outlets and curious tourists. Ted enjoyed speaking with others who had gathered for the commemoration, especially the younger generations. Ted spoke with one young lady and told her she could come back in 50 years for the 100th anniversary, but her youth kept her from being able to see that far in the future.
Ted was unable to join the crowd for President Obama’s speech because the security lines were very long, and he was having back trouble. Ted left JohnAlan in line and walked to a nearby church that was inviting the public in to watch the day’s events on a large screen TV. Ted was able to watch the Obamas arrive and the president’s speech in more comfortable surroundings.
“We still have bridges to cross,” says Ted. Ted has tried to be a proponent of equality during his years as a pastor and missionary. “We must remember Selma. We must not forget our history.”
Ted explains that remembering is important for any group of people. Even Jesus told his disciples to remember when he broke bread with them that night in the upper room. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said.
But speaking again of Selma and race and prejudice, Ted remarks, “It’s not just a political issue; it’s a personal issue.” And what did Jesus say about that? “Love your neighbor as yourself.”