By Craig Hardegree

“I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’

How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’

How long? Not long, because ‘you shall reap what you sow.’

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March 25, 1965, on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery upon completion of the 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery.

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Persecution of early Christians by the Roman Empire eventually led to Christianity becoming the world’s largest religion, offering hope and comfort to millions of people around the world.

Oppression of early Americans by the British Empire eventually led to the United States of America becoming the world’s greatest country, offering hope and protection to millions of people around the world.

Persecution and oppression of people of color in the Jim Crow South eventually led to the election of President Barack Obama, offering hope and change to millions of Americans of every color, caste, creed, and circumstance.

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From the crucifixion of Christ to the conversion of Constantine, it took 280 years for Christians to reach their first major milestone when Roman Emperor Constantine legitimized and decriminalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in AD 313.

From the planning of Jamestown to the penning of Jefferson’s words, it took 170 years for Americans to reach their first major milestone when the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

But from the victimization of marchers to the victory-march of a president, took only 44 years to the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States on January 20, 2009.

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Confederate Brigadier General Edmund Pettus was well known in the 1860s for his staunch support of slavery and his military prowess in the Battle of Vicksburg, Battle of Lookout Mountain, Battle of Atlanta. After the war, he became the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan of Alabama and was elected to the US Senate in 1897 by mobilizing the Klan and viciously railing against post-war constitutional amendments aimed at permanently ending slavery.

Pettus died in office in 1907 but his racist views were still so popular in Alabama in 1940 when the bridge was built across the Alabama River in the middle of Selma…they named it in his honor.

But 25 years later on March 7, 1965, unconstitutional state-government tyranny on that bridge on Bloody Sunday forever enshrined it into the Civil Rights Movement, as the place the long march to Montgomery began; a place of new beginnings; a place of hope; a place of freedom.

Two weeks later on March 21, the marchers met again on the bridge in Selma, this time under the protection of 2,000 soldiers from the United States Army, 2,000 Alabama National Guardsmen who had been placed under federal command, and a small army of Federal Marshals and FBI agents. Averaging 10 miles per day, it took them five days to complete the 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, arriving on the steps of the State Capitol on March 25, 1965.

"Marching up Highway 80 under the protection of the US army. Sharpshooters were stationed in those houses on the horizon and some were behind me. It was wet on this day but the singing of We Shall Overcome kept up everyone's spirits." ~ Spider Martin. March 21, 1965. © 1965 by Spider Martin. All rights reserved. Used by express permission from copyright owner.
Marching up Highway 80 under the protection of the US army. Sharpshooters were stationed in those houses on the horizon and some were behind me. It was wet on this day but the singing of We Shall Overcome kept up everyone’s spirits.” ~ Spider Martin. March 21, 1965. © 1965 by Spider Martin. All rights reserved. Used by express permission from copyright owner.

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In the 1860s, three amendments to the United States Constitution permanently ended slavery:

  • 13th Amendment ratified in 1865 abolished slavery.
  • 14th Amendment ratified in 1868 prohibited states from treating some citizens differently from others.
  • 15th Amendment passed by congress in 1869 extended voting rights to black males. (It would be 50 more years before black females would get the right to vote — at the same time white females got the right — with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.)

But 100 years later, white folk in the South fed their pride and feelings of superiority, with a steady diet of Jim Crow, retching and writhing against the God-commanded concepts of treating others as you want to be treated and loving others as yourself.

In the 1960s, three events led to landmark legislation designed to permanently end Jim Crow:

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Without these three responses to the persecution and oppression of people of color in the South, the election of President Obama would not have been possible.

Which — sadly — is why people who fantasize about a return to the South of the 1950s, are so intent today on destroying the protections afforded by these historic legislative achievements.

They are not looking for quieter times; they are looking for whiter times.

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How long? Not long, because ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; 

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; 

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. 

Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!

Our God is marching on. 

Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah! 

Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.’

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And it wasn’t long. Even as Dr. King spoke, the heart of a three-year-old little boy playing on the beaches of Hawaii was being prepared for him to become the 44th President of the United States, only 44 years later, in 2009.

And six years after that, this first black president, now in his second term, would return to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and triumphantly lead original march survivors and new generations of marchers — with heads held high and hearts aglow — across the bridge in one of the most deeply profound and poignant moments in American history.

The Obama family join hands as they begin the march with the foot soldiers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Obama and the First Family lead marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson. March 7, 2015. Public Domain.
A powerful moment in history as marchers leave the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the background on March 21, 1965 on their way to Montgomery…a banner near the front foretells history: “HAWAII KNOWS INTEGRATION WORKS.” © 1965 Spider Martin. All rights reserved. Used by express permission from copyright owner.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gives his “How Long? Not Long” speech on March 25, 1965, standing on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, overlooking the 25,000 marchers at the end of the 5-day 54-mile march from Selma. Photo © 1965 by Spider Martin. All rights reserved. Used by express permission from copyright owner.

Fittingly, in 2013, President Obama placed the Edmund Pettus Bridge under Federal protection by designating it as a National Historic Landmark, forever linking the once-revered name of a Confederate general/KKK leader, to the Civil Rights Movement that paved the way for the presidency of Barack Obama.

How long?

Not long, because the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.

Glory, hallelujah!

TRUTH marches on!

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