|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 18, 2019 at 2:30 AM|
What a joy to start the day in worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ at 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham! This historic church was the site of mass meetings during the Civil Rights movement. It was the staging area and starting point for the Children’s Crusade which turned the tide of sentiment against Birmingham’s policies. And it was the site of a bombing during Sunday school in 1963 which claimed the lives of 4 girls.
But this morning we didn’t go there for the history. We went there to be God’s people today and hear a word from God for us.
The hospitality was warm and welcoming (a church member brought chips and brownies to our van after worship!) and the music was hopeful and powerful. And then Rev. Price gave a powerful sermon about the devil tempting Jesus to prove God’s power by jumping off the roof of the temple and making God catch him with a spectacular display.
Rev. Price said, “If you need proof of God’s presence with you, then all you need to do is press PAUSE and then rewind your life.” So that we can notice all that God has done for us. So that we can realize how God preserved us this far. So that we can see that God has been with us in the past and surely is with us now. And soon after he finished preaching, we all held hands to sing, “There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place. And I know it is the Spirit of the Lord.” Because God had brought us all through and to the place where we were standing. God’s presence had been with us all.
And that’s a little of what the afternoon for us was at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. A time to pause our regular lives and look back at those who walked the road before us and made a way for us.
Our students walked from rooms depicting the segregated south right through to the present day. And learned for the for the first time about the Children’s Crusade, where children were strategically used (something they were eager for!) to press for desegregation of public spaces and local businesses. UMBC’s President Hrabowski often talks about what it was like to ignore his parents and take part in the march for justice. To be a part of something larger than himself, something that mattered.
Evil caused police to use fire hoses- strong enough to pull bark off trees- against students in the Children’s Crusade. Evil got Birmingham nicknamed, “Bombingham” after the nearly 50 unsolved, racially motivated bombings in the 50s and 60s, including at 16th St. Baptist. Evil made the government threaten to cut off food assistance to those in Mississippi if protests didn’t stop- using every evil they had to wield to hold on to power.
But God brought our ancestors through by embarrassing the evil intentions of those in power. Photographers documented the violence at the Children’s Crusade and it caused outrage which forced Birmingham to integrate. When Alabama banned the NAACP in 1956, so within a week, Rev, Fred Shuttlesworth founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights to engage in the same work. College students encouraged boycots of segregated businesses which reduced sales by close to 15% at the busy Easter season and moved integration closer. And those churches that were bombed repaired their walls and went right back to worshipping God and fighting for justice. God found a way to bring our ancestors through and God will keep doing it.
On a side note, after seeing so many hateful words in the Civil Rights museum written and spoken by people who share my skin color, I cringed when I saw a pamphlet from the “Concerned White Citizens of Alabama” that called people to “Stand up for Alabama.” But I got to rejoice when I saw that this was a group fighting AGAINST segregation and reminding their fellow white citizens that “Silence is no longer golden.” It was a messge underscored by our breif visit to the Birmingham jail (just the outside!) where Dr. King penned his famous letter to white clergy who counseled him to wait for justice in the courts rather than demand it through direct action. The letter where Dr. King reminded them that silence from the powerful is violence to the opressed. "Silence is no longer golden."
Back to the church
We returned to Messiah Lutheran to the spectacular hospitality of the congregation who cooked dinner for us. And we had a chance to chat with Doris, a member of Messiah who lived in Selma in 1965 and went to the mass meetings and was there for one of the marches. She said that in those meetings there was a sense of hope, that things were finally going to change. Over 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was passed, its harder to feel that same hope that entrenched problems are going to get any better.
Tonight our students were feeling a mix of emotions- pained by all that has been and deeply grateful and humbled by the courage of those who defied unjust systems. And frustrated that it’s taken until now for them to learn their history, since these stories aren’t taught well in our schools. They felt they only got the cleaned- up versions.
Tomorrow we head to the new Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration to continue to hear the ugliness of our history so that we might learn to never go back.