A Shift in Perspective at the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail

By Kenneth Williams

The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail has genuinely inspired me over the time that I have been working there as an intern. The trials and struggles that African Americans endured offer life-giving water from rivers of Strength. Although having some knowledge of the Selma to Montgomery March, I have never connected with the story like today. The Lowndes Interpretive Center provides the opportunity for me to embrace the richness of this history, making it palpable to many areas of my life. I have always been sensitive to the struggles of the Right to Vote Movement of 1965; but now have developed empathy as I face my fears, rejections, and hurdles. The circumstances are very different, but the struggle is very much the same. The fight for what is right, what is just, and what is true is the same fight that is surmounted only by courage, diligence, and purpose. When facing challenges or obstacles, I reflect on this story using it as a positive response to the adversities I encounter. Having been encouraged to know and trust what is deserving of me, the walk of confidence in that nothing can deny me from obtaining my goal begins. While conditions remain idle and possibly become worse, patience through the process becomes the might in my struggle.

 Photo Credit: NPS

Photo Credit: NPS

Freedom, justice, and equality were the ultimate goal for African Americans during the 1965 Civil Rights Movement. For many, however, the process of embracing their power and potential enabled them to take advantage of forthcoming opportunities that would have otherwise been missed. With Civil Rights leaders and volumes of purpose-driven African Americans, change was inevitable. Yet there were some African Americans, especially in rural areas, possessing a mentality that was indicative of their circumstance. Had they not made the adjustment, this paralyzing attitude of oppression may have very well been the stumbling block that denied the objective.

Freedom, justice, and equality all having been made available avails nothing without the capacity to function in them. This movement has allowed me to witness compelling transformations in response to renewed minds. Civil Rights leaders and a sea of African Americans, who know their identity outside of their circumstance, became committed to pressing the truth into the minds of those who believed otherwise. Day after day through education and witness, those individuals who were trapped complacently in the box of suppression, began to grow mentally far and beyond what they have ever experienced.

Although immediate change in their environment remained unseen, their newly developed mindset would not allow them to rest in the confinement of oppression. Those individuals proved to me that when the mind is in alignment with our innermost being, action has no choice but to follow. Despite resistance, hardships, and pain; nothing can prevent me from coming into the very best of who I am, but first, I must believe. For the 1965 movement, I want to think that I would have been right up there on the front lines fighting for the struggle of the movement. Thankfully, this story has unveiled a mindset in me that is counter to what I first believed. Subconsciously, I find myself allowing circumstances to determine who I am, although it should be the other way around, that is what dictates my actions. Focusing on the situation instead of who I am in spite of conditions produced fear and anxiety, limiting me from progressing in life. I now identify with how African Americans were successful in moving forward by truly believing they were free, equal, and on the side of right. This attitude produced the manifestations of likeness in their external lives.

 An exhibit at the Lowndes Interpretive Center. Photo credit: NPS

An exhibit at the Lowndes Interpretive Center.
Photo credit: NPS

Lastly, the unity that evolved between African Americans to later spill into the consciousness of the world was astounding. Mentalities and perspectives began to stretch far beyond the individual, as the concern for others became a priority. I often meditate on how those filled with compassion, sacrificed themselves for the betterment of the people as a whole. For instance, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could have held position at the Nobel Peace Prize and historically became one of the most respected, notable African American leaders to this date. More significant however was the purpose over self, costing him his life to ensure that justice, freedom, and equality prevailed.

In retrospect, the 1965 movement revealed that I had been living a life concerned with myself. A prosperous life, respect, and the ability to live honorable and true are all desirable. However, I have come to realize that those things are not the peaks of life, but the foundation positioning me to ensure others receive it too. The perspective I have embodied while working for the Lowndes Interpretive Center has created in me a higher expectation: one that promotes purpose and responsibility not only to myself but also to those before me and that reminds that I maintain a position that gives way to coming generations. I am truly fortunate and grateful to have encountered this life-changing experience and encourage all who have not to do the same.

Kenneth Williams is a Greening Youth Foundation Intern at the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.