Saturday, February 14, 2009

Jim's notes

Friday, February 13 was a day for stories, emotional stories from the foot soldiers of the Movement. We left Birmingham for Marion, AL in the morning and watched parts of "Eyes on the Prize", the PBS documentary of the Civil Rights Movement. We arrived in Marion at mid-morning and sat in the Zion Methodist Church listening, transformed, by the personal accounts of six of those who were beaten back by the police as they left that church on February 18, 1965 to march to the jail to pray for an imprisoned protester. They told of the shooting of Jimmy Lee Jackson who, while trying to protect his grandfather, was shot by a state policeman. He died eight days later, the first of three martyrs of the Selma campaign. We prayed at his grave site which has been vandalized over the years by those who still hate. We had a delightful "church" lunch with more Styrofoam containers than I have seen since the 80s.

On to Selma, we visited the Brown Chapel AME Church where the mass meetings were held to organize the protest that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, March 7 that was met with tear gas, batons, and state police on horseback that beat the marchers back to the church. The televised clash aroused tha nation and Dr. King sent out a call for ministers to come to Selma to stand in solidarity. Several hundred did so and three who answered the call were Rev. Jim Reeb, Rev. Orloff Miller, and Ref. Clark Olsen. We were again transformed by Clark's personal account of the three ministers who were attacked by a group of white men after the march. The blow to Jim Reeb's head led to his death two days later, the second of the Selma martyrs and galvanized the nation. It should be noted that the nation did not respond to the death of a young black (Jimmy Lee Jackson) man but to the death of a white minister. President Johnson received no calls of indignation over Jackson's murder and 57 calls over Reeb's death.

The day was long and emotional. It is hard to fathom the ignorance and hate that drove the aggressive and violent defense of the indefensible. But it is incredibly moving to hear the personal stories of courage that led directly to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and to the election of the first African-American to the US presidency.

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