Fifty years ago today, hundreds of brave men and women marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to confront police in riot gear, throwing tear gas and bearing clubs wrapped, in some cases. with barbed wire. The tactics of these government officials would gain worldwide infamy as they beat and clubbed the marchers. We remember March 7, 1965 as “Bloody Sunday,” and commemorate the heroism of the marchers who choose to cross that bridge to challenge segregation.
The marchers were turned back that day, but they returned, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Three weeks and many miles later the marchers completed their intended journey to Montgomery. There Dr. King addressed the assembled thousands in the shadow of the State capitol building and proclaimed, “We’re on the move now, like an idea whose time has come… Let us march on segregated housing, until every ghetto or social and economic depression dissolves, and Negroes and whites live side by side in decent, safe, and sanitary housing.” [Listen to an excerpt from Dr. King’s speech to the marchers]
Half a century later, some progress has been made toward housing desegregation. America is incrementally further along the moral universe’s long arc toward justice. Every decade since the 1970s has brought a small, incremental decrease in residential segregation. However, racially concentrated housing remains a reality in nearly every American city – and segregation levels for African-Americans remain higher than any other racial group. (http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/library/housingsegreation.pdf)
Our country is still a long way from one of the main goals of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge — blacks and whites living “side by side in decent, safe, and sanitary housing.” In addition to the continued isolation of many African-American neighborhoods in floodplains, in environmentally and economically blighted ghettos, apart from other racial groups, housing in those neighborhoods is more likely to be unsafe, unsanitary and in disrepair. Nowhere are these injustices more acute today than in Texas.
- In Dallas, segregated tax credit housing concentrates the predominantly African-American recipients of federal housing aid into blighted, high poverty, low opportunity neighborhoods. Government oppression today takes on a new form, not of club wielding police but of Texas Attorney Generals seeking to overturn fair housing laws before the U.S. Supreme Court to maintain segregation.
- In Austin, the city’s fair housing ordnance to stop landlords from maintaining segregation of a mostly African-American and Hispanic Housing Choice Voucher holders is challenged in the state legislature by the Austin Apartment Association, which seeks enactment of a new law prohibiting local city’s from passing laws to promote racial integration.
- In Beaumont, the federal government is forced to intervene to stop the local housing authority from further isolating mostly African-American tenants in a highly segregated, high crime and environmentally unsafe neighborhood.
And on and on, in many other instances of ongoing discrimination all across Texas.
To this day, some of our State leaders, groups like the Austin Apartment Association and other housing providers line up on the wrong side of the bridge, blocking the march to integration.
On this solemn anniversary, we reflect on those who decided to march across the bridge a half century ago. It is our sacred responsibility to keep marching. Through legal challenges, legislative action, organizing and simple, everyday acts that speak the truth of equality and brotherhood to those in power, the march continues.
After fifty years we must muster the courage to cross the bridge anew each day to confront the powerful forces that seek to hold back our nation’s march toward racial justice.