Throwback Thursday: Selma

The Outside Eyes

To become aware of something for the first time is to come upon it in your own way, anchoring you to a new way of looking at the world, as you alone see it, which in turn, leads you to a way of becoming compassionate for others in an otherwise violent and uncaring universe. There is another way, too, the crooked path of hate, which takes you down a staircase into unbridled Hell. On one hand, nothing is what it seems. On the other, everything opens up and, if you allow yourself, you see life for what it truly is. Love and hate are part of the same animal, opening up from the inner sphere to the outside eyes of the world. For all to see.

Yin Yang

We were on our way to Selma, Alabama to walk the bridge and gap the gulf between unknowing and knowing. The hearse was running smoothly, the proverbial well-oiled machine, egged on by Mr. Brink riding shotgun up on the roof. He was there, no doubt about it, leaning over, sticking his face inside and breathing in the fragrant smoke of our fine marijuana blunts. I could only see him in the marijuana smoke and hear him laughing uproariously up there, face to the wind, a William Burroughs’s grin plastered across his boney wind-blown countenance. You may wonder why Death isn’t female. Female is birth. Male is death. Albeit with a little of each thrown into the other. The white dot in the dark of the Yang and the black dot in the white of the Yin. The Yang, male, hardness, active. The Yin, female, passive, softness. The Yin Yang of Life and Death. Balance.

We Will Overcome

The civil rights march in the Spring of 1965 (for voting rights) slated to begin in Selma and end in Montgomery, Alabama was anything but balanced. Skewed heavily on the side of the police. Skewed on the side of the white man beating up the black man. It has always been thus. Still is today, although skewed in a more subtle manner. At least, it is portrayed that way by those who run the asylum. But it is not subtle to the African Americans, who still suffer the indignities of bigotry and injustice today. How far have we come? We haven’t come far enough, not even close. It will be a long march, one that will not end soon. But we will overcome. Someday.

Bridge over Troubled Waters

Beginning on March 9, 1965, three marches took place, days within each other. During the first one, called Bloody Sunday, beginning six blocks from the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge that spans the Alabama River, the state and local police met the six hundred marchers head-on, wielding whips and nightsticks, clubbing and tear-gassing the crowd, as the marchers walked out onto the bridge. Mounted police then chased the remaining protestors into the streets, beating them to the cheers of white onlookers. At least, TV cameras were there for the eyes of the outside world to witness what had been hidden for so long.

No Tide of Racism Can Stop Us

A couple of days later, Martin Luther King led the second march of two thousand across the bridge, but no farther. In the end, the police blocked their way. The third march, protected by the National Guard, gathered over three thousand demonstrators, who marched from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital. They slept by the side of the road at night and marched twelve miles a day. Their numbers swelled to twenty-five thousand, culminating at the state capital. Fifty thousand met and joined them to hear Martin Luther King speak. “No tide of racism can stop us,” from the steps of the capitol building. Three months later, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 into law.

To Walk in the Footsteps of History

We reached Selma in the fade of an early morning light. I felt the beginnings of fall tucking itself into Mother Earth as if it was getting ready for a long Winter’s nap. The cold was coming, the seep of what Mr. Brink called, the Abyss. The freight of fear was in the air. We hadn’t been to Selma in 1965, but we were going to walk in the wake of history, walk in the footsteps of those who went before, those who changed history. We were going to step out and walk the span of that infamous bridge.

The Broken Drum

We parked the hearse six blocks away near a bar called The Broken Drum. We tumbled out and made our way inside. The darkened tavern exuded a stygian chill, the smell of stale beer and peanuts. The sound of pinball being played ricocheted back and forth in my ears. A black and white TV sporting wilted antennas, sat regally on a shelf high above the old bar, surveying all that went on below as it burped black and white images of a game show in dull, snowy relief. I could feel Mr. brink walking behind us, could feel him warming to the place.

Bridge the Gap

There were three or four patrons in the bar. One playing the pinball machine in a corner. The other three at the bar drinking. All black. All older men. They all turned when we entered. Regarded us with surprise. I saw it in their eyes. I had gone to a few good jazz clubs in Denver where the patrons were all black. This didn’t phase me, because over time I learned that there weren’t differences in our humanity, only differences culturally. Once you bridge that and understand we are not all that different from each other, then no problems arise. You can be at one and at peace with others, who our masters running the asylum tell us are different from us. I always sought understanding, not division. We’d do well to learn this lesson today. We need to turn down the static of our political discourse dividing us. Bridge the gap.

Show Us the Way

After a few tense minutes, we sat down next to the three men. I ordered beers all around, including one for Mr. Brink, who sat beside me, his long black coat and tails reaching all the way to the barroom floor. We all struck up conversation. There was a matter of trust to be breached. When we bridged that we became friends. As though we’d known each other all our lives. We opened up and so did they. As we got to talking and drinking, it just so happened that one of the men was on those three marches. The first one. He pulled back a lock of his hair and revealed a long, jagged scar where he had been beaten with a club and later stitched up. We told him why we had come. We wanted to walk the bridge. He said he’d come with us. Show us the way. The others wanted to join as well. We headed out into the bright sunshine.

All of us piled into the hearse. The three black men marveled at the car. When Sven told them we had a very special passenger with us called Mr. Brink. Said, you couldn’t see him, but he was here among us. Death is watching over us, he told them. They looked at us as though we had thrown all our marbles into the river. Then, they laughed. A little nervously, I thought. One put an arm around Roger’s dog and started talking to him. Roger’s dog whined. I started the hearse and we were on our way, headed east on U.S. Route 80. Three blocks away.

Making the Walk

When we got to the bridge we stopped on the side of the road, exited the hearse, and stepped down an embankment where it would be private. Here, we lit up and fortified ourselves with our extraordinary weed. We shuffled back up to the roadway. We couldn’t very well walk out into the middle of the road against traffic, so we chose to walk on the narrow sidewalk. I don’t remember there being a sidewalk then. Up over the river flowing lazily underneath us. Couldn’t hold hands like they did a year ago. But we were going to make the walk. In our own way. With Mr. Brink.

Sunday Bloody Hell

We made it to the center, and here we stopped. I held onto the railing and looked up into the sky, blue and flowing like the river with clouds, then down at the river, a mirror of the sky. You could hear the cars and trucks in the span. But then I tuned them out and imagined the chaos of a year ago: The beatings and clubbing’s, the tear gas and mace. The line of police, helmeted, looking like the star wars troopers except they were dressed in black riot gear. I could hear the screaming, the moans. I could feel their pain. Could hear the white onlookers jeering the protestors and cheering the police. Sunday Bloody Hell. I could feel all this and more.

The Eyes of the Outside

We continued on to the end. We stopped and took in the outside, bringing it inside us to remember. A great sadness overcame me and my knees felt weak. So much history hanging from the rafters for all to see. The pain and the suffering handed down through the ages. Continuing today. We turned around and walked back in silence. No one said a word as we got into the hearse and drove back to The Broken Drum. Mr. Brink had vanished as if he’d become ashamed. He probably had to call on someone. We said goodbye to the three men, wished them well. They waved as they walked through the door, back to their world, their inner sanctum – away from the eyes of the outside.

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