Don’t gloss over significance of Johnson’s trip to Selma
Brandon Johnson’s attendance commemorating the “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Alabama, as he bids to become Chicago’s next mayor, was more significant and symbolic than the Sun-Times coverage reflects. The newspaper mentioned the trip but did not do so in context of who Johnson actually is. The son of a pastor, Johnson grew up with the dual traditions of service and standing up for justice. He is a respected labor organizer, but he also serves as a Cook County commissioner, an educator and a consummate coalition-builder.
We remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the preeminent symbol of a movement that included hundreds of thousands, as someone who fought for racial justice, but many forget that he also fought for the rights of working people. Indeed, he died fighting alongside striking Memphis sanitation workers. And the famed 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, was a march for “freedom and jobs.”
Teachers were also instrumental in civil rights organizing throughout the South, from Freedom Schools to supporting activism at historically Black colleges and universities. Johnson’s career as an educator, public servant, elected official, labor leader and minister’s son, are all relevant to his presence in Selma over the weekend. The Chicago Freedom Movement of the 1960s demanded the kind of progressive agenda Johnson is promising to deliver. His leadership is what so many civil rights champions dreamed of for cities like Chicago, and for the country as a whole.
It is powerfully symbolic that he marched alongside those remaining movement elders in Selma. He stands in their tradition.
Dr. Barbara Ransby, civil rights historian, professor at UIC