50 years later: Local man returns to Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge

by Matt Wilson

matt.wilson@fct.wpengine.com

Last weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Ala. by a group of civil rights activists. For one local man that day in 1965 still has a deep and personal meaning.

Fifty years ago, over 600 unarmed men and women were assaulted by state troopers as they began to cross the famous bridge in Selma, Ala. as they attempted to draw attention to voting and other civil rights issues. Charles Dale of Russellville was there on that day and witnessed “Bloody Sunday” as it is known. Charles Dale was also there last weekend.

“I was 22 years old when we marched back in 1965,” Dale said. “I’m older now, but I was able to bring my daughter this time and that means so much to me.”

Dale said there were about 45,000 people in attendance on March 7 when President Obama and other dignitaries were there. But he said there were even more people the next—the anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

“There were almost double the amount of people there on Sunday,” Dale said. “Close to 80,000 people were there on Sunday to remember that day 50 years ago.”

Dale said when he arrived last weekend the feeling he had inside was not good.

“Being there, at the foot of the bridge, and remembering back to the tragedy of that day 50 years ago—it filled me with a bad feeling,” Dale said. “But to think of what it meant to me then and to my kids and their kids and the future—that filled me with hope and that felt good.”

Five months after the original march in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was one of the crowning moments of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Dale said that today there is still room for progress and improvement and he feels like the youth of today understand that.

“Many of the young people get it,” Dale said. “There were two marches on this past Sunday. The young people led the way and went first because they had already gotten things organized and I think that is because they feel passionate about some of the same issues that we did in 1965.”

Dale said the younger folks in attendance chanted slogans in regards to voting and the importance of voting.

“Some folks were just there to be there and see what was going on,” Dale said. “But there were a lot of people there who were organizing voting registration and encouraging people to vote.”

During the weekend Dale was recognized with the Trailblazer Award for Civil and Voting Rights involvement. One of his daughters was able to attend with him.

“It was very important to me and very special for me to be able to have my daughter with me there last weekend,” Dale said. “For her to see where her daddy had been and for her to walk in my steps where we fought for rights back in 1965, that meant so much to me.”

Dale said that he was optimistic about the future after the weekend.

“To see President Obama speak, there, at that bridge, at that site, that made me feel so proud,” Dale said. “It made me feel proud that what we were a part of and what we went through was not in vain.

“It was nice to be able to see how far things have come and what the future can be for everyone,” Dale said. “I was so proud that I couldn’t stop from crying. I didn’t even know I was crying until a teardrop ran down my face, but I wasn’t the only one in attendance who was crying.”

Though there were no clashes between protesters and state troopers this year, Dale said it is still important to keep moving forward.

“It is important for the young people to stay engaged and on top of what is happening in our country,” Dale said. “Change has come and more change will continue to come because we want equal rights for all mankind.

“We will march, march, and march some more and keep bringing awareness to issues that need to be changed.”

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