During the mid-1800s, Montgomery, Alabama had the second largest population of enslaved Black people in America. However, at the time, it was only the 75th largest city. This was by design.
At that time, the Alabama River was a predominant trade route for the human trafficking of Black people. As demand for enslaved labor on Alabama cotton fields increased, Black people were shipped south by the thousands. Daily, hundreds of enslaved Black people were transported on the Alabama River by riverboat to Montgomery. They would then be warehoused for a period and sold on nearby Commerce Street.
The Viral Moment
On August 5, 2023, Montgomery’s Alabama River instantly transformed into a symbol of Black resistance. It was on this day, that a Black security officer working at Montgomery’s Riverfront was attacked by white patrons from Selma, Alabama.
Passengers on the Harriott II, a 19th century entertainment riverboat that cruises the Alabama River, witnessed the attack. When they were finally able to dock, several Black passengers confronted the attackers seeking justice for the security guard. Defenders also came from other parts of the Riverfront. One man even swam to the security guard’s defense. Each person returned the same blows pummeled upon the man who was just trying to do his job.
The next day, Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed issued the following statement through the City’s Facebook page:
Last night, the Montgomery Police Department acted swiftly to detain several reckless individuals for attacking a man who was doing his job. Warrants have been signed and justice will be served.
This was an unfortunate incident which never should have occurred. As our police department investigates these intolerable actions, we should not become desensitized to violence of any kind in our community. Those who choose violent actions will be held accountable by our criminal justice system.
Connection to the Past
For much of August 6, 2023, Black America talked and posted about Montgomery and the Riverfront altercation. Lauryn Lauren’s Facebook Live and the exchange between Harriott II passengers and belligerent boaters from Selma Some left some empowered.
Interestingly, August 6, 2023, also marked the 58th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). The VRA was signed into law on this day 58 years ago due to courageous “Bloody Sunday” Foot Soldiers and the Selma to Montgomery March.
Black people around the country recognized this as a moment of redemption. Countless viral social media posts amplified the importance of unity for improving the conditions of Black people.
Beyond the Moment
Eight months in, and 2023 has been marked by one viral moment after the next. And while another sensational headline will likely dominate online chatter in the next 24 hours, elements of “Bloody Saturday” are worth sitting with. The community so many are longing for begins and ends with the people. We are the spark that either builds bridges or burns them down.