Cadets reflect on 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma

Reflections on “Bloody Sunday” from MMI: Bridging the Gap through Education and Celebration

By Claire M. Sherling

On a mild, sunny Saturday morning among approximately 70,000 peaceful onlookers, President Barack Obama stood in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and reflected on the victories won by the Civil Rights Movement on “Bloody Sunday” fifty years ago:

What they did here will reverberate through the ages.  Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.

A similar message of pride could be heard throughout Black History Month on the campus of Marion Military Institute, starting with a lecture by Dr. Dan Haulman highlighting the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black fighter pilots commissioned by the U.S. Air Force in World War II.   Earlier in February, another thought-provoking lecture was delivered by author Scott Morris about the power of ideas—including the idea of non-violent resistance, and how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. learned about peaceful resistance from reading the works of Gandhi, who learned about them from reading Tolstoy, who developed the idea from his own readings of the gospels of Jesus Christ. These powerful themes carried over throughout the month and began to solidify during the week leading up to the commemorations in Selma.

To give further local context to Black History Month and “Bloody Sunday,” MMI history instructor, Dr. Rankin Sherling, gave a powerfully reflective account of the unjust murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson, which occurred on Marion’s Courthouse Square and set off the Selma-to-Montgomery March. Many of the cadets at MMI were unaware that such a signature event of the Civil Rights Movement started right here in Marion, and learning about these facts gave many cadets a new understanding of the significance as part of the local community and its history.

“I think it’s really important that people, especially children, know the history… and [I] had no idea the importance this place [held] for me,” said Maya Gause, MMI Cadet Private First Class from Jacksonville, Florida.  “Now I’m so excited to say that I have lived in a place that had such an impact on African American history.”

Sherling’s speech, like Obama’s, was not only meant to educate about the grim past but also to promote pride in the present and future. Sherling’s address included some enlightening statistics about voter registration that revealed how much of a force Black voters have become in America and especially in the South—just one of the end results of the courageous and steadfast efforts of Civil Rights activists fifty years ago.

“As a young African American woman, [it] was a very significant day for me,” said Kyla Hughley, MMI Cadet Private First Class from Neptune, New Jersey. “The greatest moment was seeing everyone of different backgrounds and ethnicities, come together and peacefully celebrate The Voting Rights Act that was established in 1965.  It was a great opportunity to honor those people who paved the path for others.”

Students of all races found inspiration during the weekend—from the MMI speeches, to the President’s poignant reflections, to meeting with civil rights activists, to taking a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As they move into positions of leadership in the country, MMI’s cadets are recognizing the importance of continuing to bridge the gaps in the current state of the nation’s race relations and      carry a message of positivity forward.

“I think the most powerful point the President made was that even though racism still exists in the United States… he took a positive approach,” said David Poythress, MMI Cadet Battalion Commander.  “[The President] focused more on the progress the country has made rather than the work that’s left to be done, and that’s exactly what Americans needed to hear on a day of celebration.”