By Michael Nam
A group of men and women, all white, gathered at the Live Oaks Cemetery in Selma, Ala., while 50th anniversary celebrations of the watershed civil-rights march took place nearby, according to The Guardian. The cemetery is the final resting place of many a Civil War soldier, including Edmund Pettus, a former Ku Klux Klan leader and Confederate general whose name can be found on the bridge that stood at the heart of the 1965 march led by Dr. Martin Luther King.
The pro-Confederacy crowd allegedly showed up to guard the site, which also features a memorial to the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, because of a proposed march by an activist student group, Students Unite, attempting to get the Edmund Pettus Bridge to be renamed through a Change.org petition.
“‘March’ is a military term. In any military context, if you’re going to march on my castle, I’m going to man my barricades,” Todd Kiscaden, a Tennessean who made the trip, told The Guardian.
Despite the dire prediction, the march did not take place. Ironically, it was the student group that felt a potential threat. “There were concerns about the safety of our marchers. Many of our marchers are young people, and we didn’t want to put them in harms way unnecessarily. So we decided not to march at the Confederate circle today,” said John Gainey, Executive Director of Students Unite.
In response to the characterization of the march being militaristic or a threat of some nature, Adrienne Anderson, also an Executive Director of Students Unite, stated, “There was no risk of us being violent. We promote nonviolence. That is our whole initiative is to promote nonviolence and to have peace, which is what Martin Luther King stood for.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dr. King himself was not looked on favorably by at least one of the so-called defenders of the Confederate memorial. “His tactics provoked people to get killed, so that’s not being very nonviolent. And I think that was all in the plan,” said Pat Godwin from Selma’s chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
With the anniversary of the landmark civil-rights action being commemorated and the exposure of the film Selma, it’s predictable that individuals like Godwin, who quibbled over the definition of racism, and Kiscaden, who contended that Southern slavery was a “bad institution” but “the mildest, most humane form of slavery ever practiced,” may feel the need to counterprotest over their region’s racist legacy.
“Thename Edmund Pettus is far from what the city of Selma should honor. Let’s change theimage of the bridge from hatred and rename it to memorialize hope and progress,” says the Students Unite petition. While the extreme views of the pro-Confederacy group are likely in the minority, the struggle to make some changes may yet take quite a bit of work.