On March 7, 1965, they walked down the streets of Selma, Ala. On every side of them was opposition. There were screams from angry citizens, who felt like the activists had no business in their city. Racial slurs were exchanged, and the protesters came face to face with a brigade of men that were wielding bludgeons, chains and water hoses.
When the protesters tried to pass the group, they were attacked by a mob of citizens. Screams filled the air as people tried to scramble to safety. The demonstrators, who only wanted to have their voices heard, now laid injured on the street. Although no one died, the brutal riot that ensued left the 600 demonstrators severely injured and sent most to local hospitals. The horrific incident, now known as “Bloody Sunday,” was recorded and is now known as one of the most iconic videos of all time.
Grandmother of MC sophomore Aerial Carter, Lorene Cannon, 69, recounted the event as being both influential and frightening when she was growing up. Although she was not a part of the protest, she remembers hearing about the sheer terror of that day.
“I heard the news and I was even more afraid to walk down the streets,” Cannon said. “I kept thinking if they could do that to innocent protesters, they would have no problem attacking me. ” At the time, her mother explained the event as a “vicious attack by angry people in attempts to stop [African Americans] from wanting to vote This was just another obstacle that they have put in our way, and we need to push through it in order to receive the equality we deserve. We just need to trust in God, and he will make a way for us.”
Now that the 2012 presidential election has taken place, Cannon recounts “Bloody Sunday” as one that developed her personal views concerning voting. Cannon said that it is “important to voice your personal opinions through your right to vote.” Cannon said that she has noticed throughout the years that the younger generations are becoming more detached from political issues, and more young people are choosing not to vote.
“I feel as though younger people don’t see the blood, sweat and tears that went into their right to vote,” Cannon said. “Most don’t know the history, and they take voting for granted. They didn’t have to be sprayed down with hoes, they didn’t have to die, fight or be beaten to have the right to vote.”
Cannon believes the younger generation has never had to fight for their “natural born rights.” This has made them naïve to the hard work that went into making sure they have a right to vote today. Lula Harris, Cannon’s mother, was an advocate for African American rights and involved in the movement. Two days after the historic event, she marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 2,000 other protesters for civil rights.
On March 9, 1965, Harris attended the protest in Selma, Ala. that traveled to Montgomery, Ala. After “Bloody Sunday” two days prior, Harris participated in a march to Edmund Pettus Bridge. She said that her hope was that she could make an impact and change the current status quo for the African American community.
At that time, social protests had reached an all-time high. “Our voices were finally being heard and we started seeing change,” Cannon said. By August of the same year, Lyndon Johnson, the current president at the time, signed the Voting Rights Acts of 1965, a bill that outlawed literacy tests.
The literacy tests were put in place to discourage African Americans to vote. With the new bill in place, it allowed for over 120,000 African Americans to become registered in the South.
“That day was the beginning of positive change for all African Americans” Cannon said.“I also realized that day that if enough people stand up for something they believe in, they can make a real difference.” Cannon said that through her experiences while growing up, she has learned that voting is a way to express oneself.
When her children reached 18, she made sure that each of them was registered. Cannon said that she hopes that her children will pass along to their own children the importance of voting. “When you vote, you’re allowing your voice to be heard,” Cannon said. “And when you don’t vote, you’re allowing people to speak for you.”