I’m looking now at a bronze sculpture (in the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site) of a man in a loincloth lifting an infant, Simba-style, to the heavens. Titled “Behold,” the statue honors the tradition of some African peoples of taking a newborn child to a clearing, lifting him or her to the sky and declaring: “behold, the only thing greater than you.”
In this Herculean statue I can see a double-symbolism, a message that extends to visitors to the park as both individuals and as a community. The bronze man seems to simultaneously herald in the days in which no man is seen as superior to any other, and to beckon visitors to embody Dr. King’s greatness and selflessness themselves. He addresses, then, the world at large by reminding us that the child in his arms is to be respected as a fellow human being, and addresses the child himself by reminding him that he ought to live his life as though he has no limits. The MLK Jr. NHS holds more museums and historic sites than can possibly be explored in the depth that they deserve in one day, but for the moment I am content to simply smell the aura of this place. So I sit and contemplate the challenge set forth by the bronze father: the challenge both for his son and for the world around him. The message is personal, and I can feel it pressing me from both sides. How can I strive to live up to the examples set by men such as Dr. King? How must I act if I am to recognize the humanity, the image of God, in all men and women?
This sculpture is nestled between the historic and new Ebeneezer Churches. I wonder what it would be like to worship the Lord in the presence of sisters and brothers in Christ each Sunday and be greeted upon leaving or entering the church by this bold image?
“If you begin something, and you don’t remember where you came from, you’ll eventually find yourself right back where you started.” -Mrs. Juanita AbernathyFiled under Uncategorized | Comment (0)
Today, we travelled to Atlanta, Georgia and visited the MLK Center as well as Georgia State University to hear Dr. Glenn Eskew and Mrs. Juanita Abernathy speak. While these experiences were inspiring and will forever hold special places in my memory, it was an event that was not on the itinerary that made the biggest impact on me today.
While I was leaving the MLK Center to get back onto the bus, I met a homeless man named Leonard. As I talked to him, I learned that he was having health issues and was doing odd jobs to get by. I had never had a homeless man approach me before, let alone hold a conversation with me.
Driving through the outskirts of Atlanta, it seemed as though every patch of grass held a homeless person’s belongings. I noticed that, overwhelmingly, these people were black.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said,
New laws are not enough. The emergency we now face is economic, and it is a desperate and worsening situation. For the 35 million poor people in America…there is a kind of strangulation in the air. In our society it is a murder, psychologically, to deprive a man of a job or an income. You are in substance saying to that man that he has no right to exist.
Dr. King’s goals of desegregation and equal treatment have only been partially realized. While black and white people can eat in the same restaurants and drink from the same water fountains, blacks have been forced into a spiraling cycle of inequality and poverty that has not been fixed. How could America, one of the most advanced nations on earth, hold so many people without a house, job, or healthcare? And, if black people make up the majority of our homeless population, as well as our prison population, have we truly broken through racial barriers and into a period of equality?
I don’t think so.
The very thought of this has been on my mind all day. I had just finished walking through a museum heralding Dr. King as a heroic leader and listing his impressive achievements. And yet, it seemed as though enough had not been changed. I tried desperately to think of what I could do to help this issue, but thought of no grand ideas. I was no Dr. King.
But then I remembered something.
Towards the end of our conversation, I told Leonard that I was heading to Georgia State University next. He told me that the students there were always so kind to the homeless and that he was thankful to the college for educating such caring people.
Maybe I can’t find jobs and medical care and food for all of Atlanta’s homeless, but I certainly could show them the love of Christ. Maybe I couldn’t change the racial prejudices in people’s hearts, but I could examine and work on the prejudices in my own.
Everyone, even the great Dr. King, must start with these steps. And maybe, with concentrated effort and communication with other reconcilers, together we can finish the job that Dr. King started and build America into a better society with equal treatment and a bed for every man and woman.
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Reflecting on all that I’ve seen and heard today, from the MLK Center to hearing Juanita Abernathy speak, one question continues to surface to the forefront of my mind.
“Where is our Martin Luther King Jr. today?”
Dr. King was truly an extraordinary orator, pastor and leader. I have never seen or heard anyone so charismatic and passionate as that man. Without a doubt in my mind, he is unparalleled. So thinking about it now, my initial question seems irrelevant since I believe there can never be anyone like Dr. King.
But, why do I still hope for a man to rise up and instill the same teachings of peace, love and justice to this world today? Why do I need some sort of prophet to follow?
Dr. King was a man who won the hearts and trust of many. He was unwavering in his pursuit of freedom and happiness and stared at the harsh realities of this world and the possibility of death everyday as he worked in the Civil Rights Movement.
Despite his ability to reach thousands and travel to a higher place of understanding, wisdom, and peace he was still human.
And realizing his humanity, he could stand in front of his followers and acknowledge his own mortality while resting in God’s immortality.
Dr. King understood that leaders fall. Man will inevitably perish, but the everlasting Father in Heaven will forever remain.
I believe that we do not have to go seeking a new prophet. Man will fail. Yet, the greatest prophet of them all already came and died for our sins. Jesus was the only perfect prophet and Son of God who completed the work that needed to be done through his death.
That being said, as his followers we are given a charge to continue a work that was started and completed on the cross. We do not need to be told what we should do. We already know what to do because of the instructions in the Bible, Christ’s teachings and through the Holy Spirit that resides in us.
As followers of Christ, I don’t think we need to wait on someone to try and inspire us to make a change. Of course we need strong Christian leaders in this world, but at the same time, being a Christian alone should individually inspire us to make a change in whatever way we can in the places we are currently at.
We have to be leaders for Christ. That is what Dr. King was. With his faith and Christianity as his backbone, he took every blow, every obstacle, every threat and could not be brought to his knees unless it was for prayer. His faith in God’s character and love for his children is what motivated him to do all the things he did.
That’s why it is encouraging to know that the same God that inspired Dr. King should be the same God who inspires us to make a difference.
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End of Day One and we’re a little fatigued after our early departure this morning. Our group is getting to know one another and share experiences as we begin to retrace the footsteps of civil rights legends.
Today we visited the campus of North Carolina A & T to see a monument dedicated to Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, David Richmond, and Ezell Blair, Jr. These four black men were freshmen in college when their peaceful sit-in at the local Woolworth lunch counter prompted others to the same non-violent direct call to action.
My thoughts were drawn to my own high school years today. I participated in my school’s Multicultural Awareness Club in which I was one of three whites among several dozen black classmates. It was the first time in my life to experience feeling like I was in the minority. The first occurrence of my white privilege slapping me in the face, though at the time, I would have been unable to articulate its impact.
Our club traveled south one year, touring several black colleges, including A & T. Regretfully, I do not recall learning of these four civil rights legends during that visit, although I’m sure we were told.
I am grateful for this opportunity to retrace my, and more importantly, their steps.Uncategorized | Comment (0)
This year, Messiah College is sending 11 employees and five students to participate in the “Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Bus Tour.” They are Tiffany Burrows, Joanna Hadley-Evans, Kris Hansen-Kieffer, Robin Lauermann, Caroline Maurer, Paula Maynard, Randy Ness, Don Opitz, Rachel Shenk, Sarah Wade, Scott Zeigler, Jocelyn Chavous, Abbey Combs, Jacob Edmunds, Madilyn Keaton and Kenedy Kieffer .
The trip runs from June 11–19, 2016, and will visit several historic sites of the civil rights movement in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Part of their time will also be spent meeting with and hearing from various leaders and scholars of the civil rights movement. The participants will post to this blog during their trip, offering insight and reflection on their experience.Filed under Uncategorized | Comment (1)
Meeting with the Freedom Riders today was inspiring. The Freedom Ride was a Journey of Reconciliation coordinated by CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) with the intention strategy to test President Kennedy’s commitment to civil rights. Kennedy had vocally supported civil rights during his campaign, but his support appeared to diminish post-election. The strategy was for an inter-racial group to board buses destined for the South, with whites sitting in the back and blacks in the front. At stops, whites should sit in blacks only areas and blacks in white’s only. The Riders were largely college students, with the moral courage to put themselves in harm’s way in order to advance the cause of justice for all.
The intent was to ride from Washington D.C. to New Orleans. They didn’t make it the New Orleans, and many endured vicious beatings and prolonged jailing. They did however achieve their central objective, forcing President Kennedy to take a stand on civil rights and also leading the Interstate Commerce Commission to rule against segregation in interstate bus travel, which was more specific than the original Supreme Court mandate of 1961. The Freedom Riders identified one piece of a larger puzzle of injustice, and they set out to address that piece regardless of the cost.
When I think of the Freedom Riders, I wonder where such inter-racial change efforts are today. Of the 100 original Freedom Riders, 51 were black and 49 were white. Their message of justice was amplified by joining together. I imagine that many whites, in particular, began to rethink how their connection and commitment to the civil rights movement as a result of the Freedom Riders.
The struggle for justice continues today. Charleston. Ferguson. Baltimore. All reminders that injustice is pervasive. All moments in time that all too briefly raise our moral consciousness. How might these moments of clarity become sparks for renewed conviction accompanied by the requisite long-term energy to make and sustain real change?
So much the Freedom Riders and the larger civil rights movement can teach us as we seek to engage the issues of the present. Inter-racial dialogue. Non-violent direct action. Long-term strategic organizing. What must we do today to fulfill King’s Christian vision of the beloved community? What must each of us do? May each of us discern and find ways to address our piece of the puzzle.Filed under Uncategorized | Comments Off on Day 8: Saturday, June 20 (by Cynthia Wells)
This morning I awoke to a BBC breaking news alert on my phone that read “Nine killed in Charleston, S.C. church shooting.” My heart sank and I immediately recalled our group’s time just the evening before with Carolyn Maull McKinstry, survivor of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., and Lisa McNair, younger sister to Denise McNair, one of four children martyred in that same bombing.
I’ve spent the day trying to process both tragedies, individually and together. Most of what follows are a few scattered reflections of that processing.
It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that something like yesterday’s shootings still occurs more than 50 years after the Birmingham incident. In both events, a murderous act was methodically planned and carried out simply because of hate for other people based solely on the color of their skin. Yes, it’s more than likely that mental illness has a role to play, and that easy access to guns is an issue, but, clearly, the notion of race was the primary factor.
Indeed, this has been a remarkable year full of racially-charged events. To be on this civil rights bus tour during a time like this is astonishing. We are forgetting our history and thereby repeating it. A new movement is needed—a movement that is grounded in love and non-violent direct action. But to realize this fully, we must not fear. We must unite and work together to root out the very fear that exists in the minds of so many.
Whenever I’ve stared at the faces of certain white people captured in old photographs taken during the civil rights era (see the woman in the image below as example), I’ve found myself thinking: What are they afraid of? After all, it’s fear that leads to hate. But we know that perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). Love is the only thing capable of combating fear and hate and violence. Those things can’t comprehend love, forgiveness and peace.
We must unite around love. Dr. King knew this. Not only did he know it, he taught it and he lived it. In his last sermon, preached the night before his assassination, Dr. King said,
We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon • April 3, 1968 • Memphis, Tenn.
All of us—no matter our skin tone, ethnicity, culture, nationality or religion—must come together and get out from underneath this oppressive slavery to violence. To do this, we must join hands and fight as one, coming powerfully against our violent oppressors in a spirit that is opposite of theirs. We must come united in love for one another.
In one museum on our trip I came across this Harriet Tubman quote: “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
The masses of the world—you and I—need to realize that we are one people; that we, having bought too easily into a long narrative of violence, have been enslaved for far too long. We must stop listening to this oppressive voice of the past that has kept us shackled and disoriented and instead begin to listen deeply to each other.
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Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon • April 3, 1968 • Memphis, Tenn.
At dinner the other night, I sat and wondered what might be different if Dr. King were alive today. We have certainly come a long way since the Montgomery bus boycott. However, inequality is still rampant in our society. I am sure that Dr. King would not have stopped. I am certain that he would still be fighting for equal rights for women and for the LGBT community, for immigrants and for religious minorities. What I am saying is that I do not believe that we have carried on his legacy well. Perhaps we have become distracted from the cause or perhaps a wave of complacency has washed over this country. Whatever the reason, there is work to be done. There is still a need for change.
Tonight we had the joy of meeting Carolyn McKinstry and hearing her discuss the value of reconciliation in our world. Mrs. McKinstry was in the 16th Street Baptist Church when a bomb was set off in September of 1963, resulting in the death of four little girls, her friends. I would have loved to sit down with her for a couple of hours to discuss her thoughts on how reconciliation can happen in our country.
Something she said really struck me. When she was young, she often wondered about what was being preached in the white churches. Those who were responsible for killing African Americans and those who held up signs of hate, often did so in the name of Christianity. As a matter of fact, on a membership application for the KKK that I saw in a museum in Selma, being a Christian was one of the necessary qualifications to join. When Mrs. McKinstry went to earn her Master of Divinity and the students were taking turns explaining why they were there, her response was that she wanted to find out what they were reading. The message she heard in church was a gospel of love and she did not understand how it could be turned into such hatred. This story caused me to tear up. How many other little girls and boys grew up wondering the same thing? How did so many white people not get it? How do so many people today still not get it?
Although I have only read a couple of chapters of her book, I would like to share with you the last few paragraphs as I feel they are especially pertinent as we look to make changes in society.
As I ponder on the title of this book, While the World Watched, I see that the world has stood back passively and watched people hurt other people for many years. But now I believe it is time for us to stop watching. It is time for us, with God’s help, to take action. For some reason, God has chosen to use imperfect individuals like us to bring about his will and his Kingdom purposes on this fragile planet. I am convinced that through the intentional actions of caring, concerned individuals that we will see healing take place in this world.
Our society has taken down the signs on the public toilets and water fountains, but the battle is not yet won. Governments and organizations haven’t been able to erase human suffering on earth. I have come to understand that hearts must be changed one person at a time in order to truly put racial prejudices and violence behind us. The better way—the only way—is the personal way. The only hope for true transformation is for concerned, compassionate individuals to stop watching and decide to become ambassadors of forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation. Only God can change hearts, but he can use us and our stories to reach out and touch those in need of healing.
As believers in Jesus Christ, our responsibility is to teach God’s love and forgiveness to a world where injustice and pain often rule. We must show the way of love—love for God and love for our neighbors. We as a people can no longer be silent. We must speak out in love and speak out against those things that hurt others.
For many years we have seen the effects of hate on our world. Now it is time to prove what love will do. One day at a time, one individual at a time, and one act of kindness at a time—we can heal the world. We must stop watching and begin healing.
—Carolyn Maull McKinstry, While the World Watched (p.285–286)
May it be our mission to not stay silent. May it be our goal to speak out in love, overcome hate, and promote reconciliation.Filed under Uncategorized | Comments Off on Day 5: Wednesday, June 17 (by Jonathan Bert)
Reflections on the Civil Rights Journey (So Far)
What an unbelievable opportunity this is as an employee of Messiah College. It makes a tremendous statement about the values of the college to send employees each year to this event. How many times in a person’s life does one get the chance to take the time to learn about something as important as this period of history in the life of our nation? How many colleges make this type of investment? I feel the responsibility and I am also thankful for this investment in my life and work.
So far, one of the things I was immensely impressed by was the age of the leaders at the beginning of the movement. Martin King and Ralph Abernathy were 26 and 29. Their idealism, their education, and speaking ability served the movement well. They acted out of their faith commitment plain and simple. You could not separate their actions from their faith.
This movement was not just some unorganized spontaneous event. Strategy was studied, well planned, well trained, and well executed. Leaders of the movement knew that racist police chiefs, mayors, and governors would serve their cause well if they could engage them. These white racist leaders did not let them down.
On one hand it’s hard to imagine the level of hate and bigotry that was necessary to treat black people in the multitude of ways their dignity was stolen time and time again. Yet, from a spiritual standpoint, we know that sin that is nurtured leads to all manner of corruption, destruction, addiction, and selfishness. The hate and mistreatment was hugely institutionalized, and fear was the hammer that was able to keep the lid on this whole affair for such a long time. The active faith of those who led the movement is as good a demonstration of active Christian love as I know. Members were willing to die for those who would follow if that would make a difference. Their willingness to do something is as good a reflection of the love of Christ as I know.
The personalities we’ve met who were a part of the movement are amazing individuals. These persons were very nice, kind, well-spoken, active people with a zest for life itself. Mrs. Juanita Abernathy knows so much about how things evolved, knows how personalities played a part, and yet she focuses on the major accomplishments. Her husband in particular has been noted by more than a few authors as being a large part of this movement. He was MLK’s closest friend and confidant. Rutha Harris may be the closest thing to angelic singing this side of glory. What was special to me was that after we thought she was done singing, Todd persuaded her to sing the song “To God Be the Glory.” We were there on the day after my 35th wedding anniversary and that song was sung at our wedding. What a special blessing that was for me!
It is great for me to get names, faces, places, etc. sorted out historically and chronologically in my mind. Look out now Jeopardy! if any questions come up about this. But don’t let this comment let you think I’ve not understood in a new way the depth of the seriousness and magnitude of these events for suffering people.
Last evening we heard from the Rev. and Mrs. Graetz who are a white Lutheran ministry couple whose house was bombed three times because they were part of the movement. While time has stolen most of the volume of their voices, the story of their lives thundered. They lived in the same neighborhood near Alabama State University that the Abernathy’s lived in. One of the bombs went off in the night and they had six kids in their house, one a nine-day old baby and another one-year old. It would be so easy to hate people who tried so blatantly to hurt your wife and kids. But their love comes from Christ’s own heart. This was another thing that was special about the movement in general. Those in the movement did consciously remind themselves and stated publicly that they did not return hate to those who did these things. But they did let it be known that they were sick and tired of being sick and tired of the treatment they received. The love of God … is greater far … than tongue or pen … can ever tell! It goes beyond … the highest star … and reaches to … the lowest hell.
Today we walked across the Edmond Pettus Bridge where Alabama State Police brutally clubbed, tear-gassed, and beat marchers, rode horses into them, back across the bridge as marchers tried to escape, and even road their horses into a church in Selma. This brutality lasted all night around Selma. Those responsible for the safety of residents were out of control. The Klan and white supremacists controlled law enforcement basically up to the governor’s office and even further. How George Wallace thought he could run for president after these times boggles my mind.
Well, there is much to tell, but it is easier for me to understand current events and the plight of African Americans in this country as a result. I have some books to use as references. I think it is easier to understand the views of our President when you think of what he has probably endured to some extent during his lifetime. Even though we’ve come so far, he knows these things and it must break his heart to see a Ferguson event happen. The past must just roar back when an event like Ferguson occurs.
Signing off for now … processing so much. I hope to blog one more time this week at least.Filed under Uncategorized | Comments Off on Day 4: Tuesday, June 16 (by Bill Strausbaugh)
Today we traveled to Selma, Ala. Selma is a broken city and it still seems to be stuck in history. We spent most of our day with Joanne Bland, the youngest member of the march we call today “Bloody Sunday.” If you haven’t seen clips of Bloody Sunday, I suggest that you watch them to give you a picture of what she survived. Joanne gave us a wonderful tour of Selma but she spoke of the activism we still need to do today. She spoke fondly of the younger generations and the need to educate them of the past. She said, “If they forget where we have been, they can’t take us anywhere.”
We walked over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, named after a Confederate General, just as Joanne did 50 years ago. I did not have to fear the policemen with billy clubs or the horses or the tear gas as I passed over the peak of the bridge. But I do fear what would happen if we ignored the injustice in our world today. I do fear we will keep history in its place and not learn from our mistakes. I do fear we will accept how far we have come, but lose sight of how much further we must go.
Let us not assume because it is “history” it is relevant today. Just because the movement birthed into law the rights that were wrongly denied to African Americans, does not mean the hate has been left in history. The nation turned a blind eye to the hate, violence, and vile acts of its citizens to the black citizens of our nation for hundreds of years. We have to consider the reality that the hate still exists and thrives in America today. We have to consider our institution and our students who must take us to where we need to be. We have to consider what we can do to help bring reconciliation. We have to start acting like Christ, and not lose sight, hope, or resolve to seek change.Uncategorized | Comments Off on Day 4: Tuesday, June 16 (by Allan Mathew)