|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 17, 2019 at 1:20 AM|
We are extremely grateful for the hospitality of St. Dominic Catholic Church in Kingsport, TN where we slept last night and for Aunt Ruth (aunt of Pastor Ray Ranker of the Lutheran ministry at the University of Maryland) who let us in at 12:30 at night!
After 14 hours of driving over 2 days we are so happy to finally be in Alabama! We began our Civil Rights trip in Selma today. What happened at Selma is actually at the end of the Civil Rights era, but we needed to fit things in as they were open. So we’ll be walking backwards in history this week.
Lowndes County Interpretive Center (National Park Service)
Our first stop told the story of Lowndes County, which was a center point of the Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery. In 1965, it was the poorest county in the nation. 80% of the population was black but they only owned 10% of the land. Many were sharecroppers and scared of losing what little they had and weren’t ready to join the fight for voting rights.
But organizers recognized the need to use this area- notorious for voting rights abuses- to wage this battle. For many of our students, this was their first time learning about Bloody Sunday and how the peaceful marchers were stopped and beaten by police. This was the first time hearing our American stories of the evil done and the bravery of those who refused to let the way things are be the way things would be.
Our students were shaken by seeing the police’s riot gear and the cattle prods used against human beings. They were haunted by hearing that the beating didn’t stop when they left the bridge, but the violent police officers followed them back to their homes and churches. The news coverage of this event spurred a nation to action- including the Ministers’ March 3 das later and the final march to Montgomery 2 weeks later. And the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed soon after.
But as one of our folks said, “feelings don’t go away because they pass a law. They just come out another way.” And this hatred and discrimination just needed to find another way to come out. So as residents of Lowndes County began to legally register to vote, they found themselves evicted from their homes (because if you didn’t have a home address, you couldn’t register.) And the original organizers raised money to buy land and build Tent Cities to shelter the brave folk who registered to vote, eventually building homes from them. I love it when life keeps fighting back like dandelions growing up in the sidewalk cracks!
Walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Selma
Our next stop was to walk across that holy bridge. There’s something about being in the place where history happened that matters. To walk those same steps. But then you reach the town of Selma, where people are going about living their lives. And our students struggled as they passed building after building that was empty or boarded up. Streets were nearly deserted. And the hope that they felt after knowing what happened there turned to disillusionment and frustration for what is- a place without a lot of economic opportunity for the residents. It was like walking off a movie set and back into the real world where things are complicated and don’t work out how we think they should.
Gaining some measure of justice doesn’t always mean that life is transformed. And the question becomes, “why?” And “how can it be different?” And “where do we go from here?”
Brown Chapel AME
We kept walking through town to Brown Chapel (AME). At a time (1965) when Gov. Wallace made it illegal for African-Americans to hold mass meetings in churches, Brown Chapel risked ignoring that order and becoming a place to organize and the beginning point for the marches in Selma (all 3 of them, including the one that eventually made it to Montgomery.) Our students distinctly felt that we were standing on holy ground, ground that had been a safe space for so many who were a part of the fight for justice.
And there’s holy ground next to the church, too- George Washington Carver Homes, a public housing complex whose residents were crucial to the Civil Rights struggle. They housed and fed organizers and supporters and joined in the marches themselves. The monument next to the Homes celebrated the freedom fighters and included high schoolers, college students, hospital workers, and teachers. So many regular people who were called into a movement that was bigger than themselves. And who risked their safety for it.
Tonight we talked about how the Voting Rights Act was allowed to expire and the danger that still exists from disenfranchisement of voters, particularly voters of color and those living in poverty. And we- all us regular people- need to keep reminding our government of the necessity of making sure all our citizens can vote. There may be a moment- and it may be soon- where all us regular folks are called to be a part of that continuing movement toward justice so that the situations of our brothers and sisters will change. We’ll keep on walking and keeping our eyes and hearts open in the days ahead.
Now we’re settled into Messiah Lutheran in Montgomery and are grateful for the warm welcome, the fresh cookies and lemonade and the carpeted floors and padded pews, which make sleeping so much more easier! Off to Birmingham early tomorrow!