Days before the 2023 Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee, members of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative (BSWC) vowed to “continue the work our ancestors began 58 years ago.”
The BSWC, which includes members from Alabama, was formed to support the organizing, ingenuity and prowess of Black women executive directors in the South. The group was founded in 2021 by Phyllis Hill, national organizing director for Faith in Action.
It includes Dr. Adia Winfrey and Khadidah Stone in Alabama; the Rev. Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida; Kendra Cotton, executive director of the New Georgia Project; Ashley K. Shelton, president and founder of the Power Coalition for Equity & Justice in Louisiana; Nsombi Lambright, executive director of One Voice in Mississippi; and Tameka Greer, executive director of Memphis Artists for Change in Tennessee.
Ahead of the commemoration of the Selma to Montgomery March, which began on March 7, 1965, they released the following statement:
“We will resist injustice, just as our ancestors resisted,” Stone said. “For those of us in Alabama, we are clear that we are on sacred ground. We move and work on the same ground where ‘Bloody Sunday’ occurred, where the first march from Selma to Montgomery occurred on March 7, where Turn Around Tuesday occurred, where the ultimate march occurred on March 26, and where countless foot soldiers gave their lives for the cause of voting rights. We know that we have a responsibility to never tire but to persist, carrying on and extending the legacy of our ancestors.”
“This year is a reminder of the importance of commemorating what happened and recognizing that the fight continues,” Winfrey said. “This year, 2023, marks 10 years since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was gutted. When we consider that the VRA was signed in response to ‘Bloody Sunday,’ we have a sober reminder that many of the achievements of our ancestors are being washed away. In this moment, we have a chance to expand voting rights and get the John Lewis Act passed. We have an opportunity to champion other legislation that could expand voting rights.
“Day in and day out, civil rights activists put their bodies and their lives on the line for the cause of justice and freedom,” said Shelton. “They fought for the right to vote, and while those early martyrs ensured generations had access to their agency as voters, we know that we, too, must continue to hold the line and defend the right to vote.”
“One of the things that we saw is that the early foot soldiers for civil rights were undeterred by acts of extreme violence and intimidation,” said Hill. “Even in the face of grave danger and violence, they persisted. We too must persist.”
“We continue to express the sentiment of James Baldwin when he retorted, ‘How long must we wait on freedom?’ Advocates today are asking the same thing,” Cotton said.
“On this 58th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March, we know that we are facing a serious backlash on the teaching of Black history, particularly in Florida,” Rev. Thomas said. “In the same way that our ancestors were undeterred, we too must be undeterred. That is why I was so proud of the young people in Florida with the Dream Defenders who organized a walkout of schools in protest of DeSantis’ efforts to restrict the teaching of Black history.”
“Those of us who continue to advocate for voting rights, fair and equitable redistricting laws, and the ability to elect candidates of choice know that the fight for freedom doesn’t end – it merely evolves,” Greer said.