In a few days we’ll be in Selma together. I’m looking forward to seeing this place that is so significant in our nation’s history. It feels personal to me because you, Elder Brother, were part of that history. I do not take for granted the gift you are giving me by your willingness to retrace your steps with me --you as a black man, me as a white woman. While I know that there were whites on the marches in Selma, one being your friend, Unitarian pastor Jim Reeb, who died from injuries after being severely beaten; you and I come from enough of the same cultural cloth to know that our walk together is still unusual. When we walk together, we are aware of our separate histories of legalized “outsiderness” as well as our shared commitment to human rights.
At the time of your march with King across the Edmond Pettus Bridge (the name I did not know until we started planning our trip) on March 9, 1965; I was 3 and living in Brisbane, Australia; you were 31 and living in Boston, Mass. I only know this history from textbooks, Wikipedia, film, and newsreel; but, the human suffering, civil injustice, and hate-fueled violence are clearly apparent as is the fierce determination to break down barriers, facedown legal oppression (emphasis on the press-on), and pull self respect out of the ashes of disregard. I try to imagine what it felt like to be part of a mass of people –nationally, locally, together, dispersed—rising up to say, “No more!” Not only rising up, but having a resounding outcry of, “No more.” The song “We Shall Overcome” comes to mind. What a song of faith and determination. It is the depths of despair that lifts this song to its most profound heights.
If you have time, I’d like to know what your thoughts are as you think about your return to Selma. Will this be your first time back?
See you soon, dear Elder Brother, YS
Dear Elder Brother,
Tonya and I arrived in Atlanta late last night. We only got turned around once going to the hote, the Country Inn & Suites. Tonya is calling it the Dirty City Inn.
On the plane from Helena to Salt Lake City, I read several section of King’s book Why We Can’t Wait, which gave an account of the Birmingham demonstrations in 1963. So much I don’t know from (or possibly remember or possibly wasn’t taught in) my school history books and classes. It was very revealing about that time period in our county, the 100 year mark of the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet the plight of Black Americans in Birmingham, as King wrote, “The Negro also had to recognize that one hundred years after emancipation he lived on a lonely island of economic insecurity in the midst of national prosperity.”
There is so much more to write to you about, but we’re called to the Continental Breakfast and the drive to Birmingham where we’ll meet you this afternoon. A few things first.
Sunday’s blog, I was still under the impression that you walked across the bridge. Rereading an account of that march, that you sent me back in March, I see that you stopped before the bridge. You were there only 2 or 3 days after Bloody Sunday. How quickly your group from Boston organized and arrived in Selma. I can’t find the article you wrote to quote it here, but I will.
On other quote from King, similar to what I was trying to describe from my imaginings, about the song We Shall Overcome.
“An important part of the mass meetings was the freedom songs. In a sense the freedom songs are the soul of the movement… They are the adaptations of the songs the slaves sang –the sorrow songs, the shouts for joy, the battle hymns and the anthems of our movement… We sing the freedom songs today for the same reason the slaves sang them, because we too are in bondage and the songs add hope to our determination that “We shall overcome, Black and white together, We shall overcome someday.”
I’ve always felt an uneasy when the lgbt religious community sings We Shall Overcome. It seems barely a shadow of the meaning of the civil rights movement. Well, there’s much more to unpack on those thoughts later.
See you soon, YS