In Search of a Usable Past (John Fea’s posts)

June 18th, 2017

Here are my posts from the 2017 Civil Rights Bus Tour:

https://thewayofimprovement.com/category/civil-rights-bus-tour-june-2017/

John Fea

Day 3- Albany, GA and Montgomery, AL

June 13th, 2017

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Today started in Georgia, and we went to the Charles Sherrod Civil Rights Park. This was beautiful and gave some facts of the history of Albany in the Civil Rights Movement. It is easy to tell that Albany is open and readily talking about their history in this movement. My favorite part was the tiles, and some of them say donor’s names, but one said “God is on Our Side,” and another said, “Let Freedom Ring!” How beautiful are those sentiments? God is on the side of those fighting for liberation. That is just the God we serve and that was a great reminder for me. the fight for justice is not something that is anti-Christian, in fact, it is one of the most Christian things we can do.
Following this, we went to a museum where we were able to meet Ms. Rutha Harris. Rutha Harris was one of the original Freedom Singers, and to hear the songs of this movement from people who were directly involved was inspiring and moved me to tears. I was able to sing with Ms. Rutha, and that was such a great opportunity, but of course, I was nervous! This woman has pipes! Her voice filled the entire room, and I got to sit next to her on stage and sing. The integration of this protest movement along with the Spiritual oral tradition was beautiful to hear and be a part of. Everyone in the town knew Ms. Rutha, and she was so humble, and truly had a beautiful spirit. The songs would beg Pritchett and Kelly to open the cells because God’s children are praying and crying in their cells. As I write this, I am listening to Ms. Rutha’s CD and these songs are extremely powerful.

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After this visit, we went to eat lunch and then headed to Montgomery! Unfortunately, it was raining in Montgomery so we couldn’t stop at a lot of the places we had hoped to. We stopped at Holt Street Baptist Church which was so amazing because history was made there. This is where discussion happened about the Montgomery bus boycott. I felt honored just to be standing in a place where the plans were made for a boycott that would show the power of black people and also change our lives forever.
We then were able to go back to the hotel and had dinner made by Sophia. This was the food that you would expect in the South. There was fried chicken, cornbread, meatloaf, watermelon, yams and more. This was truly a treat!
I have found it interesting that all of these cities are so eager to talk about their part in the Civil Rights Movement, but what that really means what that there was a lot courageous black people, but also the most blatant racism in these areas. While one of these things is worth celebrating and is still true today, I fear the other still lingers on as well.

A valuable part of this trip has been the conversations that I have had with faculty and students on the bus, at meals, and in the hotel. I am really gaining a lot from that and look forward to that continuing through the rest of the week!

Day 2- Atlanta, Georgia

June 11th, 2017

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The morning started on the bus early, and on the bus we listened to a sermon that King preached. The big points that I took away from the sermon were that often people say that in time, things will get better when it comes to race relations. But there is never a good time for the privilege to work to give up their privilege. I think that is important to remember, and it is interesting that King said things like this from the pulpit. The next thing King talked about was how a lot of people will say that the black people don’t need any help, they just need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. King debunked this theory by saying that there isn’t an even playing field. King said it is like telling someone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they have no boots. That resonated with me because often people pretend like white people have been more successful than black and brown people just because they work harder and that’s a lie. The opportunities they are born with are completely different. Someone on the trip said that being white is like winning the “birth lottery”. White people did not do anything, and yet they are heard and experience far less oppression than their black counterparts.

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When we arrived we went to MLK’s home church. This was interesting because everything in or near the church was preserved. We went to the home he was born in, the old church, the new church, the reflection pool where MLK and Coretta Scott King tombs are, and a museum built in his honor. The part that impacted me the most was the old church. The church has beautiful stained glass and is a beautiful infrastructure. When we walked in, I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. I sat down and prayed while hearing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. resonating through the room. There is power in his words, and King used the pulpit to give a message of nonviolence. I find that to be so Christ-like. Dr. King was not a poor uneducated black man, and I think that makes his sacrifice so significant. King could have lived a life still facing oppression, but he received a doctorate degree and had education on his side, so he could have made it okay. Instead, he fought with the least of these who really had no voice. That is so significant to me.

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When I saw Dr. King and Coretta Scott King’s graves, I really struggled because I wasn’t feeling too many emotions. Of course, it is touching, and it is important to remember that King knew his life was on the line every time he went out and he kept going out. I think that I have become so desensitized to the deaths of black and brown people that it takes an Emmett Till image to really pull at my heartstrings. Isn’t that horrible? The death of black and brown men is no longer surprising to me. I think this trip challenged me in that way. Hurting for each black man who has died is tiring, but everyone deserves that. If my brother or father died, I wouldn’t want people to be unphased. It’s unnatural not to feel when faced with the brutal deaths that people experience for no reason besides the color of their skin or the fight for basic human rights.

 

IMG_2167MLK has such a large area dedicated to him, and I think he deserves it. I think a lot of other people deserve it too. The Civil Rights movement is often boiled down to two or three names, but there were so many people and no matter how small of a role they played, they knowingly put their lives at risk, and deserve that credit. This is something I continue to reflect on throughout the tour. One of the small moments I       appreciated in this part of my day was a tour guide named Sunshine. Every day from 9-5, she volunteers at the fire station that Martin Luther King Jr. played at, and she had so much passion for what she was talking about, and she never stopped smiling. To volunteer every day doing the same thing, and still keep a positive attitude with a goal of making everyone feel special was really something I enjoyed and will remember about today.

 

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We then went to Georgia State University and heard from two speakers. Dr. Glenn Eskew talked about the South and the appeal of slavery and Jim Crow in the Confederacy. It was fascinating to me how slavery came with economic benefits and how often people in higher up places used racial tensions to keep them the black and white lower class apart. His lecture was full of history, and explained some of the South’s motives that are less talked about but NEVER justified slavery or segregation which i think is important and challenging to do. Dr. Eskew clearly knew what he was talking about and that was present when we asked him questions, which he gave quite insightful answers to.

Following Dr. Eskew, Juanita Jones Abernathy spoke to us all. This was amazing because she and her husband were close friends with Dr. King and Coretta Scott King. The way she talked about them was like old friends. This was such a cool experience, that not everyone will get. Ms. Abernathy was such a character, and so filled with joy. She talked about how she learned nonviolence from Jesus Christ, not from Gandhi or anyone else. Her inspiration to protest nonviolently was because of Jesus as her example. It was interesting because she said that she doesn’t pledge to the flag because she still doesn’t have justice, but she still had so much American pride. I don’t normally see those things together, and it was kind of confusing but humbling because she played such a huge role in America’s history. I think though America’s history is messy, it’s inspiring that she has found pieces of America to love while she stood in the face of oppression. Ms. Abernathy said she loves America because she has the right to protest when she is upset with something being done, and one of my favorite quotes was, “I love America with all her mess”. She has seen change and holds onto hope for more. Ms. Abernathy was a participant in nearly every march in the 60’s and was one of the first people involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This is such an opportunity, and her joy was straight from the Lord, and that made me appreciate it even more.

Day 1-North Carolina

June 11th, 2017

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Last night I was asked what I was most excited for when coming on this trip, and my answer was to know more names. I had no idea where that came from, but when thinking about my education as a young biracial child, I knew three names of black people who changed the world for the better, and I knew the names of an innumerable amount of white people. I think this made it easy for me to associate white with good, and black with bad but this is far from the truth. My youth pastor always says, “Every name has a story, and every story matters to God.” If that is true, which I do believe it is, why are we not hearing the names and stories of all of these black and brown people who literally gave up their lives for me to have a better life? This is something that is troubling to me, and I hope to be a part in remedying it. These names are important. These stories have value. They deserve to be heard. This does not discredit Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks, but I think they would say the same thing. I am excited to be on this trip with white people because these stories will help them to be a better ally and share the stories of others because their voice is often more readily heard. I know this trip will make me feel every emotion that exists, but I pray that I am able to adequately articulate them so that others may get a glimpse of what I experienced. This is such an amazing experience, and I am blessed to have been given it. Today we are driving to North Carolina, and then going to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum and North Carolina A&T. To stand where the Greensboro Four stood is amazing and inspiring, and I am ready to feel all the feels. I feel entirely out of my league here, where the rest of the students are far more well versed on these topics, but I hope this will help me to get there.

We watched a documentary called “Soundtrack of the Revolution”. There was a quote that said “the police can’t take away our songs,” and I was so moved by that because there was so much the police could and did do to the people fighting for their freedom, and to see them singing while being mistreated and arrested was completely moving. The hope that comes through song is empowering. Music created a sense of solidarity through all of the struggles that came their way. The documentary also talked about how the oral tradition has sustained black life and looking through history that is so unbelievably true. It talked about how going to jail became the thing to do, and I started thinking about how we are taught that people in jail are bad people, but for black and brown people that have never really been the case. So we are perpetuating this false narrative that people in jail are bad, and the police are good, but far more often than we want to believe that is not a complete truth.

When I got the monument for the Greensboro Four at North Carolina A & T, I was speechless. It’s easy to look at the statute of four men, shrug your shoulders, and move on, but I think it’s important to remember the amazing courageous that came with this protest. To think that men my age started to change and revolutionize America in difficult ways really is inspiring. While schools may be “integrated” there is still more to be done and these people inspired me to do something now. I think it’s important to reflect the lives that were put in danger for my rights. I would not be here without the Greensboro Four and those who followed after them.

There is no way to adequately express how this whole thing made me feel. I have cried 2-3 times, and it’s weird because we are traveling, but it’s not a happy trip per say. I know how I shouldn’t respond to these monuments and museums but is hard to know how to react. Some people took pictures with the monument of the Greensboro Four but I found my experience to be too somber for that. I recognize that as I advocate for other people, I am only able to do it with relative confidence of my safety because these people risked theirs first and I think that is moving, and disheartening.

The Museum was cool because I was able to stand where the Greensboro Four sat and the rest of the protestors at that time. That, to me, was really inspiring and just an opportunity I feel blessed that I had. The parts that moved me most was when we went to the “Hall of Shame”. The Hall of Shame is where there were pictures of morbid events that happened throughout the years, and they haven’t stopped, and they are not restricted to the South. I cried looking at the mutilated faces and bodies of men, women, and children that lost their lives for no justifiable reason. Emmitt Till was pictured, and it brought me back to the grace that Mamie granted the murderers of her son and the Spirit of God so present within her. That gave me a glimmer of hope, in such a horror filled area. The museum also talked about how the fabric of this country is not as perfect as we often portray it, and throughout the formation of this country, people have not been treated fairly. This is important to remember because this history does play a role in the current state of our nation. There is so much hurt, but we have come so far and seeing the Greensboro Four, and knowing they were victorious is a beacon of hope in a rather depressing time. This one restaurant’s integration is not enough for me to be satisfied, and the fact that they were beaten and tortured simply to be served a meal breaks my heart. In the museum, as the tour guide broke down different pieces of the oppression the black people faced in the 60’s, the intentionality of the white people to degrade the black folk and make sure that mentally they knew they were less than disgusts me, and that mindset permeates our media and other modes of knowledge even today.

As I was looking at their monument, which stands at the college at which they were college freshmen, I began to look into myself and think about how I had done nothing nearly as impactful as that. While I was thinking that, Kelly said, “This is the challenge in making people into big figures to look up to, we forget how we are playing a role as well, no matter how small it is.” That is so true. Every conversation I have about race and equity is a part of the role I am playing. I can’t help but thank God that often I am able to speak up without fear of my life, but many still can’t. Change is coming, but I want to be an agent of change. Yes, God will do it, but God uses people, and I want to be one of the people He uses.

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