When I teach the idea of the “intermediate value theorem” in Calculus, I often begin by helping my students visualize the concept. I tell them that if we (just East of Cleveland) wanted to visit Cedar Point Amusement Part (far West of Cleveland), we would need to cross the Cuyahoga River, which cuts Cleveland in half. Fortunately, there are many, (often architecturally interesting) bridges to help get us from one side to the other. However, it is another bridge, crossing another river which has been on my mind lately. The river I have been thinking of is the Alabama River, and the bridge that crosses it is named after Edmund Pettus, a former “grand dragon” of the Klu Klux Klan.
Fifty years ago this weekend, a group of peaceful prophets began to march from Selma Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery to protest the efforts being made to prevent African Americans from being allowed to register to vote. As they reached the bridge spanning that river, they were met by law enforcement officers, some on horseback, who turned them back. What resulted is often called “Bloody Sunday,” arguably one of the saddest moments in American history in the last 100 years.
When I read reports of that day, I can’t help by think of my niece and nephew. Beautiful children with lives filled with possibilities stretching out before them, my niece currently reads well above grade level and my nephew, at three years old, knows his numbers and letters and can write his name. The world is theirs, but in a different time, it might not have been. That is because their young, beautiful skin tells the story of grandparents and great grandparents who grew up without some of the rights they were entitled to as citizens of the United States.
I have long ago stopped trying to protect my daughter from the realities of history, even thought I would like to. I recall cringing when she learned about World War II, read about Anne Frank, and when I needed to explain the "backstory" of what was happening in "The Sound of Music". Someday soon, my niece and nephew will learn of the journeys taken by their ancestors through time. I trust that my brother in law, a politically active writer and future teacher, will do a great job telling them his family’s part of their personal story.
However, I suspect that someday they will come to me to ask me about these things, even as they would have gone to their mother, had she lived. My sister and I looked so much alike that people sometimes mistook us for twins, even though I am a few years older than she was. I am therefore very aware of the fact that when they look at my face, it may be the only opportunity they have to speak to the image of their deceased mother.
Should they someday approach me with questions of the struggles some people who look like them may have encountered years ago, I know that I will be at a loss for words. I am not sure what I will say, but I do know that I will hug them tightly. I will tell them that they are very gifted and that this world, that this country is greatly in need of their talents. I will let them know that, if the future is to be a good one, we will need their vision, and, thanks in part to blood that was spilled in Alabama fifty years ago this weekend, their votes. As they look into my eyes, the eyes, in many ways, of their mother, I hope they realize that this is a truth that most firmly, I do believe.
Do any of my readers have memories to share of the struggles to pass the voting Rights Act of 1965?
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