Civil rights leaders discuss truth, reconciliation at Selma anniversary

Kelsey Davis
Montgomery Advertiser

Without acknowledging where a story of injustice was born, there can’t be healing and there can’t be progress. Civil rights leaders gathered in Selma on Saturday to talk about what that healing looks like.

Bernard Lafayette speaks during panel discussion on non-violence on Saturday, March 4, 2017 at the Selma Center for Non-Violence in Selma, Ala.

It’s recognizing that socioeconomic injustice today is a direct result of racial injustice in the 1960’s and that racial injustice in the 1960’s was a direct result of slavery in the 1860’s. It’s about turning toward that truth, forgiving it and building a more hopeful world in spite of it.

“It is (a culture) where the specificity of human dignity is an urgent matter of justice for us … for me, justice begins with the recognition of human dignity,” said David Ragland of the Truth Telling Project in Ferguson, Missouri.

Their panel discussion was part of Selma’s annual celebration commemorating Bloody Sunday, where 52 years ago roughly 500 people were beaten and gassed by police for attempting to cross the Edmund-Pettus Bridge and demanding the right to vote. Bloody Sunday led to the Selma-to-Montgomery march, which helped pave the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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Nearly a half century after that brutality, panelists spoke to a crowded room in the Selma Center for Nonviolence about truth and reconciliation - what that is, what challenges it, and where opportunity lies to foster it.

“Reconciliation is, first of all, about a process of truth telling,” said Fania Davis, co-founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth. “[It’s saying], ‘This is what you did and this is how it harmed me this is how it impacted me and my family.’” It doesn’t happen in a single moment or during an accumulation of moments. It’s what can take place after truth is told.

One of those hard truths that they acknowledged is that Selma, the city where non-violence once conquered violence, is now the eighth most violent city in the country. But in spite of that, they still found reason to hope.

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Fania Davis speaks during a panel discussion on non-violence on Saturday, March 4, 2017 at the Selma Center for Non-Violence in Selma, Ala.

Bernard Lafayette, a panelist and pivotal leader during the civil rights movement, looked out over the multigenerational, multicultural crowd and said that this was exactly what Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of.

“This is what he told me he wanted to see happen,” Lafayette said. “Institutionalized non-violence.”