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Crossing the Bridge

Crossing the Bridge

My family’s 2020 spring break took an ironic turn that now seems like serendipity.

We had planned a Caribbean vacation, but COVID-19 emerged about that time.  Not wanting to leave the country, nor get on a plane, we made a quick decision to drive to the Gulf Coast of Alabama.  We chose Alabama because it had no cases of the virus at that time, it was drivable from Iowa (15 hours!) and it offered an attractive beach substitute to the Caribbean.  We had a wonderful time in Alabama, despite eating in our condo and staying distanced, and I would highly recommend a visit.

I’m a bit of a history geek and thought it would be good for my daughters to see a piece of history, so on the way home we decided to take a short detour to visit something significant.  Within a few hours of our route home were a few good options: Vicksburg, Mississippi where General Grant had won a major battle of the Civil War, a restored Alabama plantation, or, a bridge in Selma.  Selma won the family vote.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge, which spans the Alabama River, is named for a former Grand Dragon of the KKK. In 1965 a group of peaceful civil rights activists, mostly African-American, endeavored to march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery to demand the right to vote.  The trip required crossing that bridge, and their attempt to cross that day became known as Bloody Sunday. Police and state troopers confronted the marchers on the bridge and the marchers were left beaten and bloody. John Lewis, one of the leaders of the march, suffered a skull fracture and fifty-seven others were treated for injuries.

The bridge was quiet and mostly empty when we arrived.  A local man, at the foot of the bridge, told us the story of Bloody Sunday, as told to him by his Uncle who was in the march that day.  Then we walked across.  And back.  No confrontation, no barriers, just an old bridge in a tired southern town and some monuments commemorating John Lewis and the other leaders of the 1965 march.

Our trip across the bridge was before George Floyd, before civil unrest of 2020, before the passing of John Lewis.  I wanted the kids to have an understanding of a place they read about in books, some additional context around the civil rights era.  Crossing the bridge in Selma was an impactful experience for our family.  In the framework of events unfolding since, the impact was even deeper than we could have expected.  I feel quite fortunate that we made that detour to Selma.

3 comments

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Jayne | Aug 5th 2020 @ 8:37 AM

Thank you for sharing! A family trip you will always remember and cherish!♥️

Georgie Blackburn | Aug 16th 2020 @ 8:28 AM

Using history to teach is so vital to teach a sense of commitment. Great story, great parenting Mike! We have taken the two older grandchildren, now in college, to Gettysburg where their great,great, great Grandfather (Chuck’s great-grandpa) fought for PA, was captured, lost an eye and then lived to join his family. His name is on the PA monument. Covid prevented a trip this summer for the three younger ones but it will happen. I’d love to see Normandy, where my namesake, my mom’s brother, cl

Sara | Aug 18th 2020 @ 8:35 AM

Very cool experience for your family. Thanks for sharing!

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