An "Open Letter" to Pamela Chatterton-Purdy and Rev. David Purdy, Creators of  "Icons of the Civil Rights Movement", and the book about them

Dear Pam and David,

One of my quotes that you used in your one-page biographical sketch of me is this: "One of my goals for the rest of my life is to encourage and empower young people to find meaning in the Civil Rights Movement..." I write this letter to you because an additional goal of mine is to "Encourage, enable and empower white people to explore, discuss, and respond to the long-standing need for black people to have '...the right to secure and govern our own bodies."'

I have said with a twinkle in my eye, "It's not easy being white", as I have remembered Kermit the Frog's, "It's not easy being green". We who are black constantly look for white people who "get it"; who have been able to break free from the "chains of whiteness" with their privilege, power, supremacy, psychological, spiritual, historical, and cultural capacity to imprison white people. Pam and Dave, you broke free from those chains as you long ago lived your lives in white and black, and then created, "Icons of the Civil Rights Movement".

My Methodist Preacher father and I were named Gilbert Haven (1821-1880) in response to a white New England Methodist Episcopal preacher who was a bold proponent of racial justice, integration, and interracial marriage. Gilbert Haven became a Bishop, but held to his racial views as he served in that office. Pam and David, I know it has not been easy for you as white persons who openly affirmed your understanding of and commitment to that most significant of American justice movements: the Civil Rights Movement. You have met resistance, apathy, and misunderstanding from white persons as well as from some blacks, whofor a variety of reasons are less-than-positive about "Icons". But you have persevered, andI and many black and white persons applaud you for that.

I, at the age of 81, now understand that anti-black bias is deeply embedded in the DNA of the white experience and worldview, and that it is extremely difficult for white people to talk about anti-black racism with their fellow whites. This began to become more clear to me during the candidacy and presidency of Barack Obama and the residency of his family in the White House: The "satirical" cover picture of Barack and Michelle Obama on a "progressive" magazine during his first campaign, the need for expanded Secret Service coverage of President Obama and his family, the "just say no" of the Republican Party to the Obama agenda, the Tea Party emergence as an anti-Obama entity, and most recently, the display of  Confederate Battle Flags as President Obama arrived in Oklahoma (Will the first Jewish President be confronted with flags that have the Nazi swastika on them?).

And of course the killings of unarmed black men by the police, the "Charleston Massacre", and much more, precipitate this "Open Letter" to you, with the hope that you will share it in ways that might begin or accelerate conversations about anti-black bias among our white colleagues.

I have quoted Ta-Nehisi Coates from his book written to his son, "Between The World And Me", in the first paragraph of this letter. The full quotation, I believe, could be useful as whites begin to talk to whites as never before:

"...the belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tastings and ice-cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, land; through the flaying of blacks; the chaining of limbs; the strangling of dissidents; the destruction of families; the rape of mothers; the sale of children; and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you (his son) and methe right to secure and govern our own bodies."

The conversation among whites that many of us believe needs to take place might include a remembering of the lyrics of "Strange Fruit". But in 2015, USA should replace Southern:

"Southern trees bear strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root. Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees"

Your friend and colleague in the journey to racial justice, 

Gil Caldwell

Asbury Park, New Jersey

Gil feature of profile by Religion News Service

RNS--CALDWELL-PROFILE bReligion News Service recently published an article on Gil's journey as a "foot soldier" for civil and LGBT rights. The article, written by Adelle M. Banks, offers details on his experiences in the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the "epiphany moment" that drove him to be an active part of the fight for LGBT rights.

He had to confront his own views on tolerance when Malcolm Boyd, an Episcopal priest and activist whose writings he had admired, came out as gay in 1977.

“Do you deny the impact he’s had on your life? Do you burn his books?” he asked himself. “How foolish that would be. And that, of course, was clearly an awakening for me.”

Check out the article here.


A riff on being white

Kermit the frog said, "It's not easy being green." I, many years ago, reached the conclusion, "It's not easy being white," as well. I have my own measurement as I have assessed whether white persons are authentic in their commitment to racial justice. My measurement? Whether or not white persons are able to confront other white persons about their racially insensitive attitudes, and at times racist actions, toward those of us who are black.

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Dr. Ben Carson, what role would you have played in SELMA?

Although I do not agree with Dr. Carson's views on marriage equality, nor with the ways he is being embraced by some conservatives, my greater concern is how Dr. Carson identifies with America's greatest protest movement, the Civil Rights Movement. Do those who embrace Dr. Ben Carson because of his conservatism on a host of issues do so as a way of separating him from a movement that was neither liberal or conservative — America's Civil Rights Movement? ...Dr. Ben Carson, Oprah Winfrey has given witness to her long support of black justice by playing the role of Annie Lee Cooper in SELMA. If given the opportunity, what role would you have played in the film?

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Gil to speak during MLK Day Observance, Shenandoah University

The Rev. Gil Caldwell, an African-American clergyman who is a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, and who was a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., will address the university community at three separate events on Monday, Jan. 19, during Shenandoah’s observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Caldwell, a retired United Methodist Church minister, will show clips from footage for the documentary in post production “From Selma to Stonewall” at 11 a.m. in the Brandt Student Center, Room 123 (Borden Student Associations Center). A conversation will follow the screening. The screening and conversation are free and open to the public.

An MLK Day Q&A Lunch with Caldwell begins at noon in the Brandt Student Center Food Court, and is open to the Shenandoah University community.

At 5 p.m., Caldwell will serve as a guest speaker during a worship service in honor of Dr. King, to be held in Armstrong Concert Hall. The Martin Luther King Jr. Service of Remembrance is free and open to the public.

Shenandoah University students, faculty and staff will have the opportunity to meet Caldwell and discuss important issues and topics immediately following the worship service, with discussion over dinner to occur in Allen Dining Hall.


Rights of corporate America v. Rights of American women - Why SELMA TO STONEWALL matters

We may celebrate the anniversary of the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964, a campaign for voting rights for African American, can be dismantled in 2013. That the advances in women's health is still open for debate. While marriage equality moves forward, lesbian and straight women still earn less for the same job a man does. What do all these things have in common? They call for millions of people to purposely cross racial, gender, sexual orientation and religious views and rise up together to demand equal protection and voice to ALL people.

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TRUTH IN PROGRESS DOCUMENTARY "From Selma to Stonewall" launched TODAY, JUNETEENTH, on Kickstarter!

On this Juneteenth and in honor of LGBTQ Pride celebrations worldwide, Truth in Progress is celebrating by launching our crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter for our 30-minute documentary film FROM SELMA TO STONEWALL!... The power of the human story to connect people, bring deeper meaning, and unite rather than divide is immeasurable. When a people rise up together, out of the struggle, there is a power that is unstoppable. FROM SELMA TO STONEWALL will be a resource for many audiences, individuals, national and local organizations, and classroom studies. Please back this goal by making a donation today. On this JUNETEENTH, freedom is on time!

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Celebrating the life of civil rights elder Vincent Harding

"Indeed, it is precisely in a period of great spiritual and societal hunger like our own that we most need to open minds, hearts, and memories to those times when women and men actually dreamed of new possibilities for our nation, for our world, and for their own lives. It is now that we may be able to convey the stunning idea that dreams, imagination, vision, and hope are actually powerful mechanisms in the creation of new realities — especially when the dreams go beyond speeches and songs to become embodied; to take on flesh, in real, hard places."

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Gil: responding to racial inequality in light of judicial decisions on Affirmative Action & Marriage Equality

It will require unity, not uniformity among all Justice Movements as we challenge the economic inequality that hovers over the poor as well as the middle class. Division among movements that seek equal rights for people of color and movements that seek equal rights for gays, will not equip us for the struggles that we must face together.

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A Veteran of the Civil Rights Movement responds to Arizona's Governor Brewer's veto

I, as a black person who is "straight" call upon those of us who are straight allies and advocates of gay rights, even as we with our LGBTQ colleagues, have reasons to rejoice today, we think about this, "What must it be like to be Gay and live in Arizona where Legislators, thought so little of me and my humanity that the passing of SB 1032 was almost a 'slam dunk'?" I in my life's journey have wanted those who are not black to imagine what it is like to "walk in my shoes". Therefore for those of us who are straight, may our celebrations be sobered as we imagine what it is like to be Gay in Arizona, the day after and the days after, the news about SB 1032. The "negative music" that embraced the Bill may be over, but the "negative melody" that made possible the passage of the Bill, lingers on.

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Marilyn - Part II Inside of Hate: Uganda

I wish I had a magic wand. I hate the fear, the violence, and the public exposure that puts LGBT people in harm's way. We must distill lessons from you and others who lived through the time of Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights Movement, and still contend with racist landscapes. We must also learn from leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu who sees the anti-gay law in Uganda as equal to Nazi Germany and apartheid-era South Africa. We must listen to those who have survived beatings, firings, and estrangement from families and faith for being LGBT. Most of all, we must dare to cross barriers and join forces so that our voices are stronger, louder, and more powerful. Yes, those of us who have been wounded by discrimination and the many and assorted travesties of life must become healers, Nouwen’s “wounded healers.” We must not be slow to this. Now is the time to speak out.

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Gil - Part I Inside of Hate

I had thought as a now 80 year old, that in 2014 whatever it was that drove some white people to do what they did to those of us who were black, was a thing of the past and I would no longer have to spend time wondering about what it would be like to spend some time in the body, mind and spirit of a person who was anti-black. But, I have discovered that in this time that is NOT post racial or racist, I must continue to "IMAGINE" (Not the song of John Lennon) what causes some persons to hate blacks.

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Racism in the USA/Heterosexism in Russia

How many years will it take for humanity to realize the correlation between Nazi salutes that demeaned the victories of African American sprinter Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, and the anger and hurt that Gay persons and thoseof us who are not Gay feel as some believe that Russia should be able to host a "successful" winter Olympics without having its anti-lgbtq language and legislation challenged?

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Marilyn to Gil: Do the millions of United Methodists understand the discrimination their church inflicts?

Gil, how could a simple majority not decisively vote to end the suffering? It was after their vote that the second group that you were a part of was arrested from the stage where you stood between the delegates and the bishops, taken away by officers of the Cleveland police. Later, as I signed the papers for each of the 28 of you to get out on bail, the clerk said to me, “The Klan was here a few months ago. No one arrested them.” I believe Jesus would have wept at this sorrow.

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Marilyn Bennett, Gil Caldwell, Truth in Progress, and THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON

But, it was Marilyn and her persistence about our going to Selma that caused me to make Martin Luther King's words; "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere", become almost a mantra for me as I have sought, through Truth in Progress, to explore the relationship between racism and heterosexism. In this time when the Supreme Court issued rulings favoring marriage equality for same sex couples while at the same time, limiting affirmative action and voter rights for black people and others, it is important for Gay persons and the Gay rights movement, at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and beyond, to identify as never before, with the ongoing quest and struggle for racial justice.

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TRUTH IN PROGRESS in CHICAGO: Event at Broadway UMC Sunday, July 21st!

Jim Bennett (not related to Marilyn), Midwest Regional Director for Lambda Legal, supports the work of Caldwell and Bennett. "In Illinois we know how important it is to build broad coalitions to work for justice and equality. I've known Marilyn and Gil for over a decade when we were working to change United Methodist exclusionary policies. They are visionaries with a keen sense of storytelling. Their documentary Truth in Progress captures the challenges and promise of diverse communities working together for change."

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Bishop Gene Robinson: "Race is still the Festering Sore in American Society"

"I was writing today about a question posed in the Washington Post which was, 'How come no one is talking about the fact that all of the perpetrators of these mass killings are white? Does anybody think that if they'd all been African American, we wouldn't be talking about race? So why aren't we talking about race?'"

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After Stonewall: Impact of AIDS on the gay community from the 1980's

The progression of AIDS is a multi-layered history as experienced by different racial communities, however the loss of so many loved ones was a tragedy shared. Exclusion, denial, stigmatizing, and discrimination from the government, medical establishments, church, and family only multiplied exponentially the pain and heartache. While AIDS is not a "gay disease," it is greatly significant to the history and formation of the LGBT equality movement.

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