Thousands march along highway 80 from Selma to Montgomery (3/7). Photo by Rich Stolz of the Center for Community Change and the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM)

The original Selma to Montgomery march that took place in 1965, when Blacks in the South were facing injustice and systematic oppression, was the emotional height of the Civil Rights Movement and led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that extended the right to vote to millions.  Civil rights, immigrant justice, and labor groups marched the same route this past week because, in the words of Rev. Al Sharpton, “We didn’t come to commemorate what happened 47 years ago- we came to continue what happened 47 years ago.  We praise and love those that paid the prize 47 years ago; the best compliment to them is to continue to fight right now.”

On Sunday (3/04), thousands of marchers crossed the Edmund Pettis bridge where state troopers had beaten and bloodied marchers, including Rep. John Lewis who led the bridge crossing this year.  Marchers, who came from across the country, marched towards Montgomery, sleeping on the side of the road at the original camp sites along the way and arriving on Thursday, when a rally was held at St. Jude.

Eliseo Medina, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Rev. Al Sharpton, Arlene Holt Baker, Dolores Huerta, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Ramon Ramirez of PCUN carry the FIRM banner. Photo by Stolz.

At the rally (video below) Rev. Al Sharpton said, “What surprises me, father, is that this is supposed to be the bible belt.  This is supposed to be people [who] believe in christianity.  What christ do they serve?  What bible do they read?  I read in the bible about Jesus talking about a good Samaritan, who stopped by the side of the road to help a man- [...] he didn’t ask him where he came from.  He didn’t ask him for his papers.  He didn’t ask him for his green card.  He saw him in trouble and he helped him and Jesus called him a good Samaritan.  I march [in] the name of Jesus Christ.  It’s time for the Christian right to be the right Christians.

Earlier that day, news had spread about the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled against two more provisions of Alabama’s HB56.  Because of the ruling, the provision that declared that undocumented Americans cannot enter into contracts and the provision that they cannot do any kind of business transaction (licenses, water, electricity, etc.) with the state are no longer in effect in Alabama.  This is a huge blow against HB56, striking down two of the most harmful provisions that caused a “humanitarian crisis.”

On Friday, thousands marched from St. Jude, being led by Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Delores Huerta of the United Farm Workers, Martin Luther King III, original marchers (of the 1965 march), and undocumented Americans hand-in-hand for four miles to the Capitol steps, passing by King Dexter Memorial Baptist Church.  There speakers, on live national (MSNBC) and international (Aljazeera and Univision) rallied for the causes of voting rights, immigrant rights, and labor rights, drawing connections between their struggles with one woman saying- “We must realize today that the only immigration that is illegal was slavery and colonialism.”  Here are excerpts from Rev. Sharpton’s speech:

Someone said to me in Selma, the first day, said, ‘Rev. Al aren’t you concerned about people coming to this country and taking away things from American citizens?’

I said, ‘You got the wrong guy.  I had an uncle [who] fought in World War II [and] came home and Germans and others could check in hotels he couldn’t stay in.  You didn’t make a law about that.  They could drink a cup of coffee where he couldn’t drink a cup of coffee.  You didn’t make a law about that.  You didn’t start ‘protecting the borders’ until people of a different color and a different language came.’  Don’t play us cheap!  We’re smarter than that!

There is another lie- they have these inhumane immigration laws.  It’s one thing to say we can’t open the borders.  But it’s another thing to tell people you can’t service people.  You can’t care for those that are sick.  You can’t minister to those that need help.  The laws in Alabama are not immigration laws- they’re Jim Crow laws!  You have imposed Jim Crow laws in the name of immigration.

We are standing together and we’re telling you- just like 47 years ago [when] our fathers stood on these steps and fought for our right to vote and our right to live free of racism- we stand with the community to tell you: ‘You will repeal these immigration laws!’

Indeed, the struggle continues.  Voting rights must be protected, collective bargaining must remain, and HB56 must be repealed.

 Rev. Sharpton’s speech (in English and Spanish) Thursday (3/8) at St. Jude

Coverage of the March and Rally at the Capitol (Speech begins at 2:25)

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