Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rev. Nan and Sam comment on B'ham and Selma

I give you only a synopsis of this day because as I right it almost two days later I’m overwhelmed with the information we’ve been exposed to in a short amount of time. I predict I’ll be processing this experience the rest of my life. Thursday we began the day at the UU church in B’ham learning about the songs and spirituals that carried the civil rights movement. The point was made that the civil rights movement was a non-violent movement but the songs that were sung were aggressive, i.e. Onward Christian Soldiers. Jason Shelton, UU Minister of Music in Nashville, TN said, “Can you imagine singing “Spirit of Life” (a very slow, easy, rather passive hymn in the UUA hymnbook) during this movement?” We sang a few of the songs that had been adapted, such as, “Over My Head” where rather than seeing ‘trouble in the air’ it was replaced with the word “freedom”. “Keep your eyes on the plow” was adapted to “Keep your eyes on the prize”. These songs were adapted to the present, here and now and were, of course, were not led by a piano or even a guitar because the song had to move from inside the church to go outside, to march and protest. Someone said that when singing, it asks more of you when your voice was added to everyone else’s voice. Singing the song ‘This Little Light of Mine I’m gonna let it shine’ exemplified claiming yourself as a person who was literally committed to the movement. After this workshop we headed to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and 16th St Baptist Church, across the street from each other. We spent about 3 hours or so at these two places. We saw, in the church, where four little girls who were killed by a bomb on a Sunday morning. Joining us in the church was a school group of young children in the third grade who asked questions like, “are white people welcome at this church?” We were then given over 2 hours to walk through the B’ham Civil Rights Institute. It’s a self-directed journey taking you through life-like galleries beginning with segregation from 1920-1950’s, to the civil rights movement in the 60’s and onto the civil rights struggles of today. (Although almost nothing about marriage rights.) It’s a museum every person should see, a state of the art facility that is so large I wasn’t able to complete the tour. This was my first experience to visit this museum, bringing up memories of my childhood experience as a white person who lived separate from blacks until I was a freshman in high school. I will come back my next trip to B’ham. Kelly Ingram Park is across the street from the museum where we saw sculptures that included attack dogs and water guns spraying school children and a monument of Martin Luther King, Jr. From there we went to see Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth’ church, Bethel Baptist, where we learned he had just had a stroke. I’ve learned that he was as instrumental as Martin Luther King, Jr. in B’ham when fighting for civil rights. Dinner was held at a restaurant ‘over the mountain’ where white suburbia was built over the years (Vestavia). We concluded the day (very late) listening to stories of members of the UU church in B’ham who were very active and involved in the movement. Their stories were deeply moving and inspiring learning about how some of them risked their lives for the sake of justice for a people too long oppressed. Emotionally we were all exhausted from the day, but very grateful and privileged to meet the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement.

Sam says; we started our journey Thursday am at the UU Church of Birmingham with a worship service followed by personal sharing (which was very emotional for me) and then Jason Shelton lead us in the history of the songs of the movement, some of which we sang. After lunch we went to the Sixteenth St. Baptist Church which was bombed and where four little girls were killed. Then on to the civil rights institute. The day was so full that I felt overwhelmed. I’ll have to journal it later. Friday we headed for Marion, Al. to the sight where Jimmy Lee Jackson was shot after a rally and walk to the courthouse to demand voting rights. We heard from some of the people of the movement who were there. One woman, Mattie Adkins, told us of her memories of that day and evening. Even to this day when she recounts the events she became very emotional as she can still see some of the men standing in the church covered in blood after being beat with sticks and clubs. Her pain was palpable and many of us were in tears. Later, Jimmy Lee Jackson’s cousin, Shirley, took us to see his gravesite and also the childhood home and church of Coretta Scot King. We talked to her about the lack of education of the movement in the schools and the need to preserve the history as those who were involved are now grandparents. We then headed for Selma. We heard from three women who have actually developed a curriculum for teaching the history of the movement in the 4th grade in the Selma schools. They are hoping to develop a curriculum for older kids. I am already filled with emotion knowing that today is going to be spent walking some of the routes, including the Pettis Bridge, going to the courthouse, and eating lunch in the same café where James Reeb and Clark Olsen had eaten before Reeb was attacked and mortally wounded. Clark has been telling us his story throughout the trip and it is still so painful and emotional for him.

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