'Bloody Sunday' anniversary sparks squabble in Selma, Alabama

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 03, 2016 12:46 PM

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) - Two separate plans to commemorate the 1965 voting rights march known as "Bloody Sunday" have put city officials in Selma, Alabama, at odds with the group behind walks on the bridge where police attacked activists 51 years ago.

The city is planning its own events and for the first time has instituted a charge on a private organizer for government services needed for activities held around the anniversary of the March 7, 1965 incident that spurred the landmark Voting Rights Act that same year.

The private group's leader has in turn accused Selma Mayor George Evans of creating confusion by hosting competing events, which begin on Thursday.

“I don’t know what the brouhaha is all about,” Evans said. “We’re not trying to steal the show, we just wanted to give visitors options.”

For more than two decades, the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee Inc. group has planned Bloody Sunday events, including re-enactment marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The bridge was the site where about 600 peaceful demonstrators were met with fire hoses, dogs and beatings by law enforcement in a confrontation that shocked the country and became a turning point of the U.S. civil rights movement.

Last year's 50th anniversary march drew about 80,000 visitors to the small southern city on the Alabama River, including President Barack Obama and his family.

Evans, who plans to march across the bridge with Jubilee, said the event drains city coffers. To recoup some of its costs from the marches planned for Sunday and Monday, the city will bill the Jubilee group about $50,000, the mayor said.

"It’ll only be for overtime for police and public works," he said. "We charge for every other event held in the city.”

Jubilee’s organizer, lawyer and civil rights activist Faya Rose Toure, told the Montgomery Advertiser that the volunteer-run event, which she estimated costs $150,000, already faces a deficit each year.

The city's decision to hold a reception, business symposium and concert in connection with the Bloody Sunday anniversary is "a complete duplication" of her group's efforts, she said.

“The Jubilee has been around for more than 25 years, and it’s what people expect,” Toure told the newspaper. “We can work together as partners on this thing, but (Evans) doesn’t seem to want that.”

Toure, who aired her concerns in an open letter to Selma residents titled "A Community Divided Cannot Stand," did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alan Crosby)