I didn't know much about the Selma campaign and the march to Montgomery before coming on the trip. I has seen images from the Edmund Pettus Bridge and recollections of "Bloody Sunday", but not much more. The event gets short coverage in most textbooks (and in my class), and seems to be overshadowed by the March on Washington, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Little Rock Nine. While those events are all so crucial to the movement, the Selma to Montgomery March must not be forgotten - and receive equal billing.
I retraced the march in reverse, from Montgomery to Selma. The first thing that struck me was the length - over 50 miles. I didn't realize the impact of arriving at the end point until I stepped on the state capitol grounds and got a small but indelible feel of what it would be like to address a crowd there. Walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge was pretty powerful as well. To walk in the footsteps of those activists that truly put their lives in the line in 1965, knowing what happened there, ... it's hard to explain. I don't know if I could muster the moral courage it took to be a part of the movement.
I also had no idea that black tenant farmers were kicked off their land and lived in tent cities for almost two and a half years in Lowndes County, the middle of the march. It's another great example of ordinary people doing the extraordinary, a hallmark of the Civil Rights Movement.
Needless to say, I will be giving the march much more attention in class next year and beyond. The impact of the march - the Voting Rights Act of 1965 - cannot be ignored, and neither can the experiences and memories of the marchers.