February is Black History Month primarily because Abraham Lincoln's birthday is Feb. 12. Unfortunately, the political party he helped to found has lost its historical recognition as the Party of Civil Rights. As I've said previously: The Democratic Party had a terrible history and overcame it; the Republican Party had a great history and turned aside.
In my opinion, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee is taking real steps to help restore the GOP to its roots as the Party of Lincoln and the great Republican abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. I was with Frist in Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala., last weekend for the annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage, led by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and sponsored by the Faith and Politics Institute, which is led by the Rev. Doug Tanner. Ten percent of the U.S. Senate toured the historic churches and sites now enshrined as the epicenter of the struggle. It was my second trip, and as I told Sens. Frist and John Corzine, D-N.J., who were co-sponsors of this trip, it would be a life-changing experience for us all.
The inspiration and catalyst for the movement occurred in December 1955, in Montgomery, when courageous black seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white patron on a public bus. She was arrested, tried and convicted of breaking a Montgomery city ordinance in what can only be labeled as "apartheid" Alabama style.
This act of defiance launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ultimately broke the humiliating and brutal type of discrimination in public transportation. It helped lead to a mighty struggle for social justice, freedom and nonviolent demonstrations for radical change in our attitude toward African-Americans. Visiting the Montgomery Museum dedicated to Rosa Park's story of courage, dignity and moral leadership was a thrilling and enlightening experience.
We then went to Selma to commemorate March 7, 1965, what has been called Bloody Sunday, where on the Edmond Pettus Bridge, which spans the Alabama River, Lewis and Hosea Williams led 600 students, teachers and others into a confrontation with armed members of Gov. George Wallace's Alabama state troopers and Sheriff Jim Clark's deputies, who charged into the nonviolent marchers and bludgeoned Lewis and teargassed women and children.