The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
By Bobby and Sophie Harris
My daughter Sophie and I drove from our home in Marietta, GA to participate in the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. We attended a pre-march program at Temple Mishkan Israel—Selma’s only synagogue. Though the synagogue has less than 10 remaining members, the sanctuary was full that morning. Sophie was one of just a handful of youth who attended the service. Below are our reflections from the day:
Why did I come to Selma?
Bobby: The first time I saw my father cry was April 4, 1968. I was six years old and he was watching the coverage of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Until that point, I had never heard of MLK, and though I did not know it then, I would never forget him or that night for the rest of my life. Living as a transplanted Northerner in the South since 1992, I have always been interested in visiting the sites of the Civil Rights Movement that I only watched and studied from afar. The Civil Rights Movement represents the very best of what America can be.
Sophie: I always knew what the Civil Rights Movement was, and had heard about people who were involved in it like MLK, but never really knew about the actual events that occurred as part of the Movement. Seeing the movie Selma gave me a better understanding of the marches that took place there. After we saw the movie, my dad asked me if I wanted to march in Selma for the 50th anniversary. I figured I had nothing to lose. I came to Selma because I wanted to march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and connect with the events that happened there fifty years before.
What did I learn? How was I changed?
Bobby: I appreciated meeting and learning more about the people who marched and were personally affected by the events of March 1965, including the families of Viola Liuzzo and Andrew Goodman. It’s easy to see Selma only as history, very distant from our lives and the world today. But, returning helped me realize that we can view Selma not only as history but also as an inspiration to help us address the injustices in our society today, from large scale issues like health care or foreign policy, to day-to-day issues of how we treat others and let others be treated at school, at work, at camp. Do we let others intimidate those weaker than them? Do we lend a helping hand to people that need it?
Sophie: I always hear about people that are a part of history, but in Selma I actually got to talk to many who made history. I watched a documentary on Viola Liuzzo who was murdered by the KKK after marching from Selma to Montgomery. After the documentary, I met three of her children and learned about the struggles they faced after their mother’s murder. I also met Clarence Jones who helped Dr. King write his "I Have A Dream" speech, and a woman who courageously marched on Bloody Sunday. I would never have had the opportunity to meet these people anywhere else. This experience opened my eyes to a whole movement that is out in the world and connected me to new people.
What do we do after Selma?
Bobby: Since 2003, we have sent our Coleman campers on a “Human Rights Tour” to learn about what people have done and are doing to fight injustices. We consistently assert the Jewish narrative –to remember that we were once slaves and strangers in the land of Egypt and have an obligation to treat the “stranger” with respect and dignity because they are “us.” When we see injustice, we must step up and do something about it.
Sophie: After visiting Selma, I realized that even though there are no longer signs that say "Whites Only" or "Colored Only," we still have a lot of work to do. Many cities are still segregated and many are still treated unfairly and deprived of their rights. Although our world may never be perfect, I hope that in my lifetime the world will become more cohesive and act as one, and I hope to be a part of it. I am a part of the next generation and it is people like me who are responsible for making progress in this movement for equal rights. As Reverend William Barber led us in chanting, "forward together, not one step back."
Read more reflections from the Selma 50th anniversary trip including President Obama’s speech, Rev William Barber’s speech, and more. To learn more about the RAC’s Selma resources and how to bring the anniversary to your congregation, visit rac.org/Selma. Also, consider using the RAC’s Black-Jewish Haggadah, “The Common Road to Freedom,” during your Passover seder.
Bobby Harris is the Director of URJ Camp Coleman and Sophie Harris is his 14-year-old-daughter.