Joe Jones looked death in the face.
Marching near the front on Bloody Sunday, Jones and his fellow foot soldiers were quickly and violently turned away as they descended the crest of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.
Alabama state troopers beat the peaceful protesters with billy clubs and whips while launching tear gas to disperse the mostly black crowd marching to demand the right to vote.
Amelia Boynton, then 43 and a prominent member of the black community, was beaten unconscious. Jones, a student at R.B. Hudson High School in Selma, found her with blood streaming down her face. He knelt beside her scooping her up in his arms.
“My reaction was that I thought she had died.”
Bloody Sunday and surrounding events played a pivotal role in passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
While Selma changed the nation, signs of race tensions remain. In August of 2014, white police officer Darren Wilson gunned down unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. That November, a Missouri state court cleared Wilson of any wrongdoing. The U.S. Justice Department announced in March 2015 that it would not seek criminal charges in the case.
The court rulings prompted racially driven riots in the city.
But despite looking death and violence in the face 50 years earlier, Jones said the way people are protesting right now won’t lead to anything. It will just cause more people to get hurt. He has a clear message for people looking to protest today.
“What I’d tell them today is protest, but nonviolent,” Jones said. “It’s best to try and do it peacefully. It’s best to stay nonviolent and go through the system of (Martin Luther) King (Jr.).”
Jones marched on Bloody Sunday because he wanted to make a change. He helped save the life of a woman who was there to make a change. There’s more work to be done, he said, but people have to understand how to get the message across.
— Nick Erickson