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Furthermore …

Johnson
File
Thousands cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on the 35th anniversary of the 1965 civil rights march in 2000.

Bitter irony of Selma

Selma, a community of 20,756 in southwestern Alabama, has a storied place in the history of the civil rights movement.

On March 7, 1965, 700 protesters walked two by two across the town’s towering Edmund Pettus Bridge, determined to walk to Montgomery, the state’s capital, to demand voting rights for blacks. As they marched over the span’s crest, the demonstrators beheld rows of police with guns and deputized Klansmen barring the path.

The terrifying sight below them did not deter the protesters, some of whom reached the foot of the bridge before their leaders, John Lewis and Hosea Williams, signaled for them to stop and kneel in prayer.

A moment later, the posse charged. Blinded and choking from tear gas, the marchers scrambled back across the bridge as their pursuers beat them with clubs and charged them on horseback.

The marchers’ suffering – more than 80 were injured that day – was inspiringly redemptive. Later that month, some of the protesters summoned the courage to march again, and this time they reached Montgomery. The nation viewed the horrific attack and the powerful, nonviolent response on the evening news programs, which led directly to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Nowadays, people in Selma have a different dream to fulfill, according to an article by the New York Times’ Alan Blinder. The area, whose population now is 70 percent black, has been in economic decline since Craig Air Force shut down in the 1970s and now has double-digit unemployment.

But, reports Blinder, “there is a rare burst of economic hope involving an improbable source: Kuwait, which could decide to use the former Air Force base as a training complex for up to 300 pilots every year.”

Some residents who talked with Blinder are hopeful. But some have “a deeply held sense of dread” that the Kuwait deal, like others that have raised Selma’s hopes before, will fall through.

Selma is not unlike other communities in that regard.

But there is something bitterly ironic about a place where people stood so tall in the face of oppression struggling to overcome the prosaic fear and the villainless injustice of economic hardship.

House wit serves with side of wry

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., survived a primary battle last week against Thomas Brown, and anyone who likes politics leavened with humor should be happy. Johnson has a bone-dry wit, delivered with a face so straight that people sometime think he’s serious.

“My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize,” Johnson said a couple of years ago, supposedly expressing concern during a congressional hearing that the presence of 8,000 American Marines might upend the island of Guam.

“We don’t anticipate that,” the head of the Pacific fleet said in a deadpan response, while trying hard not to laugh.

Some reporters, many in the right-wing media, immediately thought Johnson was serious. Johnson, who represents an area around Atlanta, previously served 12 years as a DeKalb County magistrate judge, five as a county commissioner and three as chair of the DeKalb budget committee.

In April 2013, Johnson ostensibly spoke in favor of legislation before the House that would keep the federal government in the helium-selling business.

“Imagine, Mr. Speaker, a world without balloons,” Johnson said. “How can we make sure that the injustice of there being no helium for comedians to get that high-pitched voice that we all hold near and dear to our hearts?”

Behind his humor was a serious but sarcastic attack on Republicans for spending two days debating helium legislation rather than important issues. “Too often lately, this body has sat deflated – not for lack of hot air, mind you. But seriously, ladies and gentlemen, unlike a noble element, this House has failed to act on Americans’ real concerns.”

Johnson concluded: “I’d like to float a simple idea: Stop wasting our time. Let’s get to the business that is meaningful for Americans.”

And last year, Johnson said that the National Rifle Association was opposing all new gun legislation because it can’t get over the election of a black president.

“They couldn’t get over the first election, (and) they’re still shell-shocked at the second election,” he said. “That’s a pun, ‘shell-shocked.’ ”

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