Half a century after hundreds crossed a bridge in Selma, Alabama, in support of civil rights, about as many walked Tacoma’s 11th Street Bridge on Sunday to honor the anniversary.
April Henderson of Tacoma said she was a couple of years old when the march in Selma happened. She crossed the Tacoma span Sunday “for those that gave blood for us to be able to vote,” she said as she walked with the crowd.
At least 500 people strong, the Tacoma march was roughly the size of Selma’s on March 7, 1965, which had about 600 people. The day is known as “Bloody Sunday,” because state troopers and police beat many of the civil rights protesters who peacefully walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Julie Peterson said as she walked across the bridge from Tacoma’s Tideflats to downtown that she was honoring the historical march and supporting democracy.
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“We need to remember that people fought and died to get those rights,” she said.
The crowd marched behind large signs that read “Tacoma in Solidarity with Selma.” Marchers also sang as they walked to the end of the span.
Tacoma City Councilwoman Victoria Woodards told the crowd that Miriam Barnett, the YWCA of Pierce County chief executive officer, called her several weeks ago to ask whether they could organize a march for the anniversary.
“Tacoma, we can do this, and we just did,” Woodards said.
She paused for a moment as she started to tear up, while introducing former Tacoma Mayor Harold Moss, whom she referred to as Tacoma’s Martin Luther King Jr.
Moss, Tacoma’s first black mayor and a civil rights leader in the city, spoke to the crowd about the importance of voting.
“Anyone who says to you, ‘My vote doesn’t matter’ is maintaining the slave mentality,” said Moss, who was mayor from 1994-95. “Freedom has requirements.”
He was critical for a moment about the riots in Ferguson, summarizing: “You shoot one of us, we burn our town down.”
Instead, he suggested that if everyone in Ferguson wielded a voter registration card, the city’s leadership would look different.
“They’d have voted the SOBs out of office,” he said. “There’s power in the vote.”
He spoke about his friend and former state Rep. Dennis Flannigan’s work to make voting possible for everyone in the South in the 1960s, work for which some people were killed.
“He went to Mississippi to register black people to vote,” Moss told the crowd. “You think some of the things you’ve done were crazy.”
Moss, 85, met Flannigan in 1964, when Flannigan was speaking at Jason Lee Middle School about his efforts in the South.
It was special for the friends of about 50 years to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Selma march together, they said.
“This is what we’re after,” Moss told The News Tribune. “We’re after living together in peace, harmony, and that all of us have a responsibility for running the government in our lives.”
Flannigan, 75, wore a sweatshirt during the march with the likeness of Billy Ray Shirley III, a Tacoma teenager fatally shot in 2011 in a case that remains unsolved.
“I wanted something to remind us that, in Tacoma, every day there are struggles,” he said.
A small contingent in the crowd started to chant “Black lives matter” during the speeches, which Woodards quickly transitioned to “All lives matter” before getting back to the speakers.
“I think today shows we’re not where we were,” Tacoma marcher Barbara Kelley said after the speeches. “We may not be where we want to be, but we’re not where we were.”