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Duluth Unitarians commemorate civil rights march in Selma

Scot Bol stands to the left of signs pointing to the Selma Chamber of Commerce and welcome center. (Photo submitted)1 / 4
Ellie Connolly at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on March 7 of this year. (Photo submitted)2 / 4
Crowds swarmed the area around Edmund Pettus Bridge and Brown Chapel in Selma, Ala. on the 50th Anniversary of March 7, Bloody Sunday. (Photo by Scot Bol) 3 / 4
Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma served as a hub for the civil rights organizers in 1965. Fifty years later, crowds gathered at the same site in March to commemorate Bloody Sunday and other marches that led to the Voting Rights Act. (Photo by Scot Bol)4 / 4

In 1965, Ellie Connolly was 17 years old and living with her family in Rockville, Ill. She recalls watching television and seeing dogs attack civil rights marchers.

"We talked a lot about it at the dinner table," she said of her parents and two older sisters. "I was horrified ... and those four young girls getting bombed in Birmingham ... "

March 7, 1965 is known as Bloody Sunday. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called on clergy and people of faith to support those working for civil rights. In February of that year, Jimmie Lee Jackson, a Baptist deacon, was shot and killed by a state trooper during a peaceful voting rights march in Marion, Ala.

Even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended legal segregation, African Americans were still denied the right to vote. A voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery was planned for March 7.

But after marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas and the march was delayed. This event was covered by the major media of the day.

The full 54-mile march was completed later that month, gathering nearly 25,000 people by the time it reached Montgomery. The "Selma To Montgomery Voting Rights Trail" is designated as a U.S. National Historic Trail.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law on Aug. 6, 1965.

Connolly is now a retired nurse living in Duluth. When she learned the Unitarian Universalist Church was holding a conference in Birmingham March 6-7, 2015 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma Voting Rights Campaign, she decided to attend.

Connolly is a member of the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Duluth. Her grandfather was a Unitarian minister. Unitarianism goes back six generations on her mother's side of her family and seven on her father's side.

Connolly was especially inspired by by Rev. C.T. Vivian, 90, a close friend of Dr. King, who spoke at the conference. He said many of the leaders of the 1960s attended the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee where they learned nonviolent techniques for social justice. Such networking and education is important for a social movement to succeed, Connolly said.

Duluth resident Scot Bol is also a Unitarian. He was 14 in 1965 and preoccupied with his family's move from North St. Paul to Stillwater. He doesn't recall any talks about civil rights around the dinner table, but his parents subscribed to Look and Life magazines. "I saw photographs of dogs chasing and biting people and hoses sprayed on people and I remember thinking, 'My God! Can this be my country?'"

Bol traveled with Connolly to Birmingham and Selma for the 50th-year commemoration. They walked with packed crowds across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

He said that the area around the Edmund Pettus Bridge and Brown Chapel, an African Methodist Episcopal Church near the bridge where King and others spoke in 1965, was wall-to-wall people. "It was so packed, you were locked in place, unable to move. I was fortunate in being tall. Dads put kids on their shoulders, so kids may have had the best view." President Barack Obama spoke on Sunday, but only people cleared by security were able to get close.

Bol said that with the recent incidents both at the national level (the racist song sung by Oklahoma University fraternity members) and at the local level (the digital image of a noose on a black student's Denfeld High School photo) show that civil rights commemorations should not be seen as simply honoring the past, but as a way to educate all generations about racism that still occurs today.

Carl Crawford concurs. He is the director of the Intercultural Center at Lake Superior College.

He said the Twin Ports have lots of bridges, both literally and figuratively. He said,"Maybe its time to use those bridges to challenge our own biases and see if we are moving toward a more beloved community or are staying entrenched in our biases."

Naomi Yaeger is the editor of the Budgeteer News. If you or someone you know would like to have her interview you for a story about civil rights contact her at or (218) 723-5226.

Fast facts

• The Civil Rights Act of 1964 required equal access to public places and outlawed discrimination in employment, yet most blacks were not allowed to register to vote.

• Feb. 18, 1965: Jimmie Lee Jackson is shot during a demonstration to free the Rev. James Orange of the Southern Christian Leadership Committee, who was jailed in Marion, Ala.

• Feb. 26: Jackson dies from his wounds.

• March 7: Approximately 600 nonviolent protesters leave Selma to march 54 miles to Montgomery. They are attacked by the law enforcement officers. More than 50 people are hospitalized.The attack causes outrage around the country. March 7 became known as "Bloody Sunday."

• March 9: Three Unitarian ministers, including the Rev. James Reeb, who had traveled to Selma in order to join the protest, are attacked by a group of white men.

• March 11: Rev. Reeb dies from his injuries.

• March 21: The official Selma to Montgomery march begins, gathering almost 25,000 people on March 25.

• Aug. 6: The Voting Rights Act is signed into law by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson.

(Source: National Park Service Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail)

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at