Things are getting tough

June 14th, 2012

This has been one of the most incredible weeks of my life but it’s also been heartbreaking, exhausting and emotional. This is the biggest roller coaster of emotions I’ve  in this short of a time period. I ask, why were my Black people treated this way? What did we do to deserve such harsh treatment from slavery through the Civil Rights until even today. But in thinking about the Civil Rights movement we were treated worst than dogs. My people want to vote so you beat us, kill us, put us in jail? We have kids that march peacefully for freedom and you jail them, spay them with fire houses and turn police dogs to attack them? A black man looks at a white woman and they were killed for that? And so on and son on! I’ve always known this but this so hard being here and talking to people that fought so hard for the movement. Can you blame me for having moments of anger? How can people say that they are better than me simply because they are white am I’m not? We are all God’s people, not just white people. There is a young white girl on this trip with me that basically told me and a other black woman that she is better than black people and ‘they’ would be more respected and accepted if we acted like her. Those weren’t her exact words but pretty close. Sad thing is she doesn’t even realize how ignorant she sounds.

I know many white people still feel they are better than me because I’m black and they are white. That is the society that we live in. One of my co workers asked last night, why didn’t more whites help the movement. I know all whites were not in agreement with how we were treated but where we’re they? My question is can we come together and white people stand up for us now? There will never be equality in our country until a group of whites take a stand for change. I don’t want to take a stand alone, I want to take a stand together. Together is how we are going to make this country where ‘All men(and women) are created equal’

Some personal reflections and questions

June 14th, 2012

All of this is a bit overwhelming – so many facts and experiences. It is hard to keep everything straight. However, the general civil rights narrative is coming together. However, I am glad this this tour is not going to end with a final exam.

During the last two days, we have gone from 1965 (the march from Selma to Montgomery) back to 1955 (the Montgomery bus boycott), then to 1963 (the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and the murder of four innocent girls in Birmingham), and back to 1961 (the Freedom Riders).

It still amazes and troubles me how these events are mere shadows in my memory, even though I was alive through all of this. These events “that the whole world watched unfold” were somehow not watched in Northwestern Ohio. Last night we were privileged to hear Carolyn Maul McKinstry. At the age of 14, she participated in the children marches in Birmingham and was in the 16th Street Baptist Church when it was bombed. This first hand response of a woman my age was very moving. I keep remembering where I was and what I was thinking a doing in 1963.

Absent in our experiences are the voices of the white citizens in in Birmingham, Albany, Marion, and Montgomery. They came down on the wrong side of history – segregation formally failed. We have encountered African Americans who lived through and beyond segregation. How do the white Americans in these towns and cities process all of this? Even more absent are the white churches. You cannot understand the success of civil rights movement without the role of the black churches. Does this imply one can’t understand segregation without understanding the failure of white churches? How do white churches (and white Christians) understand their role before, during, and after the fall of formal segregation?

Fire & Water, Bombs & Reconciliation

June 14th, 2012

As we have journeyed this week, we have seen many images, many that to me are quite disturbing.  In conversations with our leader, I am still pondering how segregation remained so entrenched, with seemingly very little resistance from the white Church.  And with this lack of support, the black church continued pressing forward, essentially by themselves, for voting rights, for the right to sit at a lunch counter, to have the right to sit on the bus outside of their “normal” seats, to be able to live their lives without fear and to be equal within their own country.

How would you respond if your house was bombed?  What if it was your own church?  Imagine if it happend more than once?  Bombings were a common occurence in Burmingham, AL’s black community.  Yet, for those we have been blessed to hear from this week, there  is an underpinning of forgiveness that I do not know if I could (or want to) give.

Imagine that you are peacefully assembling (as guranteed by the Constitution) and you have fire hoses turned on and you get forced down the street by the sheer force of the water.  Think about police canine dogs, held on a leash, attacking your legs, arms, torso, etc.  Ponder that you speak at a public gathering, or for that matter attending, and having your church surrounded by angry people who do not like you, don’t see you as a true person, and are eagerly awaiting you to exit the building to beat you.  This was an ongoing set of circumstances of the blacks in Alabama in the 1950-60’s.  How would you respond?  How would I respond?  Even a more difficult question to ponder is how God would want us to respond.

What I take for granted…

June 14th, 2012

Polls, elections, voting, and all of the negative political ads–why bother?! Voting rights are to be guaranteed under the Constitution, right?! So why have so many Americans had to fight for this very right?  How many wars have been fought since this country was founded, and yet, the struggle continued?  I am angry with our country for being oblivious, I am angry at myself for not knowing this history!

Some of the monuments that have been erected honoring those who were killed (or should I say murdered) during the civil rights movement have the following as part of the saying “…gave their life…” This should read more like “had their life taken” to secure a right that should have been already theirs.

I have had a wide range of emotions this week ranging from disgust, anger, grief, sick to the stomach (alright, this is not an emotion), to feeling proud that African Americans have been so resilient despite the numerous obstacles.  The images of the lynchings, the hangings, the mutilations, and the true life stories of each one of these people have taken their toll on us…we only have had to see and hear the stories, not live it.

Civil Rights Tour 2012 – Day 5 – Rosa Parks Museum

June 13th, 2012

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plain of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. We must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” Dr. Martin Luther King
Comments like “we would hit blacks with baseball bats to show them we were mighty whitey” were frequently made and unfortunately followed through with terrible actions.
Black and white newspapers were printed every day. Black and White Bibles were used in courtrooms for people to “swear-in”.
These events are the backdrop for the Rosa Parks bus boycott. Rosa was a soft spoken, educated woman who worked as a seamstress. She was a member of the NAACP and had been working for the cause for about 10 years before the bus boycott. One evening going home from work, her bus was getting full and the bus driver wanted her to get out of her seat. It was in the “colored section” but she was still asked to get up for a white passenger. She refused so the bus driver said to her “if you do not get up, you will have to go to jail”. She responded by saying, “you may take me to jail”. Her museum in Montgomery was really enlightening and lovely.
You can still hear and feel the pain in the voices and faces of the survivors of the movement as they reveal their stories to you. The disgraceful treatment was just too horrible. The crimes perpetrated by the KKK were beyond belief. They were a group of cowards hiding behind white sheets delivering terror to African Americans, Mexicans, Jewish people or anyone else they felt like punishing. When they hung a young man from a tree with a noose, they stood across the street and watched as friends and relatives came to grieve. How horrifying! They were never prosecuted for their crime!
The shining star for the movement was definitely the theme of non-violence promoted by Dr. Martin Luther King from his studies and time spent with Gandhi.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” Gandhi
Peace to you!

Singing and soaring

June 13th, 2012

We met with Rutha Harris, who was one of the freedom singers–very powerful. Music was critical with the movement for several reasons, but for me, it appeared that music served as cadence for the marchers, to help them ease their mind while pursuing their prized freedom. As for those who know me, I don’t move well when singing, even if we clap during our worship, yet, I found myself clapping and moving, because I felt the movement of the Spirit.
While at Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, I felt that as much as the Tuskegee Airmen were placed into a near impossible position, yet they soared, proving that they were capable, were not deficient in intellect as had been stated in a war dept letter in 1925, and rose to the calling of their country, even surpassing other caucasion units!

Selma and Voting Rights

June 13th, 2012

So far we have been truly blessed to hear from key people who were there during “The Movement”. Ifeel so fortunate to hear first hand stories that provide a richness to the history of the events. Today was no exception. We were able to hear from Reverend Frederick Reese and Mrs Janne Bland. We spent a large part of the day with Mrs Bland as she served as our tour guide through Selma and Marion. She had served in the Army and had no problem giving us orders. I truly mean this with no disresepct, but in my mind I dubbed her “Sargent Selma”. No, I did not tell her that. While at first she seemed gruff, as I listened to her stories, I heard truth. I also heard a woman deeply devoted to her community. She told us the story of her mother’s death. She was ill and needed a blood transfusion. The “black” hospital her mother had been brought to did not have any blood available for transfusion. Her father took her to the “white” hospital, but they had no “black” blood for a transfusion. While they waited for the blood to arrive from Birmingham, her mother passed.

As part of our tour, she also took us to a simple slab of cement behind the church where marchers in the first Selma to Montgomery march gathered prior to the march. She had each of us pick a small pebble or “rock”. She gave a couple of our rocks names to indicate the people who had stood there prior to “Bloody Sunday”. Mine was apparantly Reverend Reese’s rock. She did this to illustate that ordinary people had stood on that slab of cement. Ordinary people had done the work of the civil rights movement. She told us to take that pebble with us. When we see injustice and feel too ordinary to act against it, remember the ordinary people who stood on the rock and let it give us strength. I kept that rock.

As I return to the routine of my life after this trip, how will I intentionally take the changes that are occurring in how I feel and think and make them a part of the way I act. Perhaps as I have this rock to remind me of those who stood ready to cross that bridge, I’ll also be reminded of the Rock on which I stand. The Rock to whom I am accountable.

Another reminder of how rocks have long been used as an image or means of remembering God\’s faithfullness to His people.

Mrs Bland was 11 years old on Bloody Sunday. Age was not a detterent for violence on behalf of those seeking to stop the march. I couldn\’t help thinking she was \”Sargent Selma\”

Day 4: Selma, Alabama – Voting Rights

June 13th, 2012

I have a stone in my pocket from the Brown Chapel parking lot in Selma, Alabama, where the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march for voters rights began on March 7, 1965 (I have permission to have it!). Later given the name of Bloody Sunday after the order from the Chief of Police, Jim Clark, came to stop the marchers from crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. People were screaming, running, crying as they were assaulted with night sticks and cattle prodders, police mounted on horses ran over people and clubbed them. This was the first of three attempted marches from Selma to Montgomery in protest of the atrocities and injustices that had occurred over the past 500 years but specifically the “Right to Vote”. The second march occurred on March 9, 1965, and is called “Turn Around Tuesday” because the marchers got to the bridge and after kneeling and praying, got up and turned around and went back to their churches. It was after this march that a man named Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian minister from the north was clubbed to death along the street. The third march was successful and happened on March 21, 1965, with the protection of State Troopers and National Guardsmen. The stone was given to me by Joanne Bland, a native of Selma, Ala. and a participator in the famous march. She was only 11 years old at the time of the march. She is an unbelievable person with a very steely personality. She told me there is still much work to do for Civil Rights and that we can never give up or go backward. Freedom is not free.
Alabama was the “hot spot” for Civil Rights and much of the turbulence and violence took place here. We visited the memorial for a young man named, Jimmie Lee Jones, who was shot in the head while trying to protect his mother and grandfather with his own body while trying to escape the police after a voting march in Marion, Ala. We also learned about the killing of Emmit Tillman, a 14 yr. old boy from Chicago, who was beaten to death and thrown in the river and weighted down with an old engine, by three men who were never punished. Joanne Bland’s sister has 24 stitches on her head from Bloody Sunday.
What does it mean for us? Do not forget the horrendous battle and journey that still continues in the US and all over the world for justice, freedom, and basic human rights. Be involved and stay connected to what is happening in your corner of the world. Be intentional about making your world better.

Day 4: Selma, Alabama

June 13th, 2012

Today was an incredible day. We came to heart of the deep south by visiting Alabama. We met with 2 individuals that worked, marched and truly served the Civil Rights movement. We first met with Rev. Reese of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. This man has pastured this church for 45 years and he was a huge leader for the Selma community. This is the man who sent a letter to Dr. King to ask him to come to Selma to help the fight for African Americans to be able to vote. He marched with King and was in the 2nd row during Bloody Sunday. If you don’t know about Bloody Sunday or the march from Selma to Montgomery please click this link It was another amazing opportunity to hear from a man to fought for freedom, for rights, for justice, for me!

The second half of our day we were with Ms. Joanne Bland. She was a young girl but she marched the Selma to Montgomery march as well. She was so candid, and honest. She was direct in her speech. It was an obvious hurt & pain she still has. It was an honor to meet her and speak with someone who has not been able to just ‘let it go’. She took us to churches where large meetings were held but the most memorable moment was she had us walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. That is the Bridge that they marched across and were met by the state police. The police would not allow them to march peacefully in their efforts to gain voting rights. Instead the police began to beat, spray tear gas, chase, destroy and do anything to attack the Black and White marchers. They beat women and children. It was brutal. Walking across the bridge made me very emotional as I continue to realize what people did for me. Joanne brought about a great point today. She says do not say people “gave their lives” during the movement because they didn’t. No one volunteered to die, they were murdered!

There is so much more to say but I can’t put it all in words. This day was a memory I will hold onto. To see and hear more about the march from Selma to Montgomery and to learn more about Bloody Sunday please kick this link.

God Bless

Personal Reflection

June 12th, 2012

It is interesting to “live through” events related to the civil rights movement for the first time even though I was actually alive during 1955 – 1968. I find myself wondering why this is the case: Growing up in the rural North and being nurtured in a Christian faith with a suspicion of the social gospel could be two contributing factors. Juanita Abernathy, who accompanied her husband in most of the demonstrations, told us that the march up North in Chicago was very different from the marches in the segregated South. It was much more vicious, full of hatred, and personal. While I never experienced Jim
Crow segregation first hand or even second hand in rural Ohio, racism was alive and well in the North in different but equally devastating ways. This is clearer to me now, and something I will we be thinking about in the next few days.