Throughout the day, the crowds grew and grew larger as thousands flocked to the US town of Selma to commemorate a bloody confrontation 50 years ago between police and peaceful protesters that was a landmark in the civil rights movement.

People poured into Selma’s elegant but run-down downtown streets. Many were young. Parents brought their children to be part of the remembrance. Many wore T-shirts commemorating the Bloody Sunday march half a century ago. Others wore shirts saying "Hands Up-Don't Shoot" and "Black Lives Matter" - referring to the shooting of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and other young African Americans at the hands of police. People carried signs demanding an end to the mass incarceration of young black men.

Ariana Simpson, who travelled to Selma from Orlando, Florida, said "First it was slavery, next it was segregation, now we have police brutality".


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We sat down to talk with Clemon Chapelle, who was just 20 years old in 1965 when he joined the marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

"They charged us with their horses and billy clubs and tear gas, and they were beating us with sticks and cattle prods," he said. "One of my teachers, Miss Margaret Moore, they hit her in the head. We were coming back across the bridge and I had to grab her and escort her back off the bridge."

People travelled from around the country to be here in Selma on this day. Kelly Bempong, a college student from Skokie, Illinois, said she felt both gratitude and indebtedness to the Civil Rights era pioneers. In her life, she said, "I don’t have to face that level of hostility or that level of oppression. And so I feel, as an African American woman, I have to be mindful of the struggles."

As the afternoon sun beat down, tens of thousands of people began to march slowly but purposefully across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Fifty years ago, the police violence against voting rights demonstrators shocked the nation, and made Selma a synonym for oppression. But on this day, the steel span rang with cheers and songs. Fear and hatred were replaced by joy.

Selma is a potent symbol, but like all symbols it must be translated into reality. The real march towards full racial equality and harmony stretches forward far into the future.

Source: Al Jazeera