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Valley veteran remembers historic Selma march

Posted at 8:34 AM, Mar 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-07 10:34:37-05

Thursday marks the anniversary of a somber, yet major milestone in the fight for civil rights in this country.

It was 54 years ago that hundreds of African American activists attempted to march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery -- all for the simple right to vote.

Ret. Col. Richard "Dick" Toliver was stationed at Craig Air Base in Selma back on March 7, 1965, the day of Bloody Sunday. He found himself just feet away from the Edmund Pettus Bridge when the attack started.

"In those few seconds...they still burn in my brain," explains Toliver. "They were already running through. I could see the back ends of horses, guys on horses. I could see them swinging their clubs down and I could hear the yelling and screaming and I could see the puffs of tear gas."

On Bloody Sunday, the activists only got six blocks where local police and a mob of people stopped them in a brutal attack.

"There were sounds of horror...sounds of horror," explains Toliver.

In March 1965, Toliver was the only black officer at Craig. Selma continued to be a hostile place for many African Americans at the time; Toliver only left the base so he could pick up medicine for his infant son.

"I realized then I was in grave danger....guys were still were still coming."

Toliver knew he had to get off Highway 80, so he started looking for side roads that eventually took him back to the base where he was too shaken, too angry, and too heartbroken to even speak about what happened to his wife.

"She was horrified - what happened? I couldn't even tell her what I had seen. It was a long time before I could calm down enough to tell her what I had seen."

It's now been more than half a century since that horrible day in American history. Toliver says we're doing better than we did yesterday, but we still need to make sure we're working towards a brighter tomorrow.

"Of course there is more work that needs to be done," he explains. "It's just a continuum that we live through. Every generation has a challenge to meet."