A/N This chapter was written almost two years before the movie Selma. Just sayin.
Laurie did not lead his friends to war. He led them in a perilous non-violent struggle. He bore that morning’s talk with Dad with him on the front lines, braving billy clubs and firebombs, being spat on and reviled. They lived on donations and handouts. They slept in strange houses in fear, and met in churches in hope. Through it all, Laurie felt his family carrying him.
There had been high spots: James Meredith graduating from Ole Miss, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington. Linda and Ned Goldstein had been with them at that one, and Sydney Thatcher, sardonic as ever until King spoke. “Free at last, free at last: thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.” They’d cheered themselves hoarse, standing there on the National Mall.
But they never let the good days lull them into inaction. They always went wherever the fires burned hottest.
So for months they’d been in Alabama. They’d been there when four little girls were murdered by a church bombing in Birmingham. They’d heard about it when the bodies of three civil rights workers were dug out of a dam in Mississippi. They’d been shocked by the assassination of Malcolm X by Nation of Islam enemies. They’d seen Jimmie Lee Jackson shot to death by a state trooper in Selma.
But today felt like a climax, like some breakthrough would finally happen.
They were marching from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate at the capitol, some six hundred strong. Henry and Jeff and Roscoe were behind Laurie, along with Julia’s brother Marcus; Laurie’s wife was at his shoulder. They had reached the highest point of the Edmund Pettus Bridge across the Alabama River.
Laurie looked down. Below them was a sea of blue: a solid phalanx of state troopers forming a wall across the other end of the bridge. John Lewis, with Hosea Williams beside him, was in the lead, as he had been in Nashville and on the Freedom Rides and in Mississippi during Freedom Summer last year.
Laurie, a few ranks behind, could hear the commanding officer barking at them. “I am Major John Cloud of the Alabama state troopers. This is an unlawful march and will not be allowed to continue. I order you to disperse and to return to your churches.”
Someone near Lewis called, “Major, give us a moment to kneel and pray!”
Cloud’s response was to shout, “Troopers, advance!” They put on their gas masks and attacked the crowd with nightsticks and bullwhips, trampling with horses, releasing teargas. As those in the first ranks started to fall, Laurie reached for Julia, standing stalwart beside him. They clasped hands.
Laurie pitched his voice below the screams and shouts around them, to his own beloved comrades and to the people beyond in earshot. “We are soldiers whose weapon is peace,” he said. “We are working for the people, our people. If we fall today, we will pick up our banner and return again and again. We may fall, but we will not fight and we will not fail. This is not the end. We will overcome. Let’s go.”
Laurie ran forward into the fray.