On Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, at the height of the civil rights movement for voting rights, the marchers’ cause became America’s cause, and it remains a very brave step forward. President Johnson joined this cause, perhaps because he had taught in a one-room schoolhouse and witnessed the dehumanizing that black school children experience. in front of Congress he would then use the Selma marchers’ slogan, the song of the civil rights movement, as we shall overcome:
The Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights ended three weeks–and three events–that represented the political and emotional peak of the modern civil rights movement. On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, some 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Route 80. They got only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge six blocks away, where state and local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas and drove them back into Selma. Two days later on March 9, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a “symbolic” march to the bridge. Then civil rights leaders sought court protection for a third, full-scale march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery.—NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., weighed the right of mobility against the right to march and ruled in favor of the demonstrators. “The law is clear that the right to petition one’s government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups…,” said Judge Johnson, “and these rights may be exercised by marching, even along public highways.” On Sunday, March 21, about 3,200 marchers set out for Montgomery, walking 12 miles a day and sleeping in fields. By the time they reached the capitol on Thursday, March 25, they were 25,000-strong. Less than five months after the last of the three marches, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965–the best possible redress of grievances.
The Common Good
Running schools can be a humble job when one realizes how much change in schools lays in the hands of the community around the school. The voting rights belong to each of us, and not to any other group, or party, and every school belongs to its voters. The common good then belongs to us and depends on us to make steps forward to it, over the bridge at Selma and through to the bridges we will cross together in the future.
What Steps Can We Take?
So the steps we can take forward to advance the common good are to correct the three most egregious errors that our founding fathers made when creating our country:
- to correct the failing of public virtue through, “self-restraint of those in power to act for the common good and not their personal interest” (Ricks, 2020, First Principles, New York: Harper Collins, p. 10),
- to correct the failing of party politics, “the misunderstanding of partisanship, or faction as they tended to call it, [which] nearly wrecked the new republic in the 1790s” (Ricks, 2020, First Principles, New York: Harper Collins, p. 10), and,
- to correct the, “acceptance of human bondage, which would prove disastrous to the nation they designed. Often seeing it a natural part of the social order, they wrote it into the fundamental law of the nation, and so sustained a system that was deeply inhumane and rested on a foundation of physical and sexual abuse, including torture (Ricks, 2020, First Principles, New York: Harper Collins, p. 10).
It is very important to learn from Selma, to learn from the past voting wrongs, and to step forward towards Montgomery, towards voting rights for every person, towards a freedom of assembly and towards the right to participate in our country’s democratic future. Our country deserves the common good, and our schools depend on it.