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The Birmingham Church Bombing and the Never Ending Scourge of Race Hatred in the United States

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

On September 16th 1963 a young Southern White lawyer in Birmingham Alabama spoke these words after a black church was bombed and the police attacked peaceful protesters:

“from anger and despair, from frustration and empathy. And from years of hopes, hopes that were shattered and crumbled with the steps of that Negro Baptist Church.”

Most Americans will not recognize the names and I would dare say that many do not even know about what happened in Birmingham Alabama 52 years ago today. At 10:22 in the morning on September 15th 1963 a bomb exploded during the worship service at the 16th Street Baptist Church. It was one of the most brazen attacks against a church in the modern era, and men who claimed to be “Christians” committed it.

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Four young girls, three 14 year olds and one 13 year old were killed. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley lost their lives that day. Twenty-two other church members were wounded in an attack, which was carried out by members of the KKK and tacitly approved of by many political leaders including Alabama Governor George Wallace. Why were they killed and why were the others wounded? For the crime of being black and the crime of their church serving as a focal point of the Civil Rights movement.

Likewise, most people, including many blacks do not know that before that beginning in 1955 there had been 19 other bombings of black churches and the homes of black leaders in Birmingham before this one. But even before that outbreak of violence, Birmingham had become known as “Bombingham”because over 50 bombing attacks against blacks, black churches and black institutions in the years after the First World War.

The church had served as a focal point of the Freedom Summer where Civil Rights activists and students from around the country had met, trained and organized to register blacks to vote. This made it a prominent target for violence.

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Early in the morning of September 15th four members of the United Klans of America Frank Bobby Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Cash and Robert Chambliss placed a box of 10 sticks of dynamite under the church steps near the basement. A time delay detonator was set o ensure that the church was filled when the bomb went off. The blast occurred as children were entering the to listen to a sermon, ironically entitled “The Love that Forgives.”

The attack was a heinous crime and an act of cold-blooded premeditated murder that maybe a number of years before might not have made the news in much of the country. But this was 1963 and over the preceding months of the Freedom Summer opened the eyes of people across the nation to what was happening in the South. The brutal attacks on many blacks, civil rights workers and student volunteers during that time raised the profile of the Civil Rights Movement and shown the ugly hatred towards blacks held by many Southerners hidden underneath the veneer of polite Southern hospitality.

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Blacks protested and were met with a massive police response coordinated by Governor Wallace that brought about more violence, and more dead blacks. A day later a young white lawyer, Charles Morgan Jr.; a true Southerner by right and heritage spoke to the White Businessman’s club of Birmingham. His words were forceful and to the point. Instead of simply asking why, the young man began his speech with this poignant remark:

“Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday. A mad, remorseful worried community asks, “Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?” The answer should be, “We all did it.” Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it.”

He continued, A short time later, white policemen kill a Negro and wound another. A few hours later, two young men on a motorbike shoot and kill a Negro child. Fires break out, and, in Montgomery, white youths assault Negroes. And all across Alabama, an angry, guilty people cry out their mocking shouts of indignity and say they wonder, “Why?” “Who?” Everyone then “deplores” the “dastardly” act. But you know the “who” of “Who did it” is really rather simple.”

Not only was the attack heinous, but, the response of many in law enforcement at the local level and even at the office of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was criminal. Hoover refused to investigate, and although a witness identified Chambliss, he was not charged with the bombing; instead he was charged for having a case of dynamite without a permit. He was fined $100 and given a six-month jail sentence.

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Thought FBI agents had investigated the crime and discovered evidence against all four men, Hoover ordered the evidence not be provided to local or Federal prosecutors. So for eight years the crime was covered up.

However in 1971 Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General of Alabama. Baxley re-opened the case and requested the FBI files, which had been suppressed by Hoover, who had died in 1972. In 1977 Chambliss was indicted and convicted of first degree murder, he died in prison. Blanton was tried in 2001, convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Cash died in 1994 with ever having been charged with a crime and Cherry was convicted in 2002, sentenced to life in prison and died in 2004.

The attack and the deaths of the four girls served as a catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. However it did not end the fight for equality, and others would die in its aftermath, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who died at the hands of an assassin’s bullet less than 4 years later.

Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voters Rights Act of 1965 many blacks have been elected to local, state and federal offices or served in some of the highest ranks of the military, judiciary, and at the Cabinet level. Two, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have served as Secretary of State, two, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, as Attorney General of the United States; one, Clarence Thomas, as a Justice of the Supreme Court; and one, Barak Obama elected as President of the United States. Black sports stars, actors and singers are celebrated as heroes among much of society.

But despite these advances, racism is still quite prevalent and getting worse as its proponents, unleashed and unhindered with a supportive President in the White House. One of my former co-workers from Georgia, a white Southern Baptist minister and retired military chaplain noted that many whites may not be explicitly racists in interpersonal relationships with blacks, but have an attitude that blacks still need “to stay in their place.” He noted that he thinks that quite a few believe that many whites believe that this is a large part of the reason that President Obama is opposed and even hated by so many whites. It is not just politics or ideology. While politics may play a role the root of the hatred is racism because I cannot for the life of me imagining any white Democrat, including Hilary Clinton getting this kind of treatment.

But the sad truth is there still is an undercurrent of unrepentant racism in the country and not just the South. In fact many places in the South have seen greater advances in racial relations than other parts of the country. That is not to say that there are those who would attempt to disenfranchise blacks, some of the voting laws recently passed are designed to ensure that significant parts of the black population, specifically the elderly and students living away from home have greater difficulty voting. It is actually a more insidious method than past Jim Crow laws because the drafters of these laws hope to keep just enough black and other poor or minority voters from voting to ensure that they maintain power. Some of those who drafted or supported these state laws designed to disenfranchise voters have openly admitted that fact.

Not only is racial prejudice experienced by blacks, it is experienced by many Americans of Hispanic origins, some of Asian descent but also by those of Middle Eastern, Iranian, Pakistani or Indian descent. And yes, people of all races, including racial, ethnic and religious minorities can be as racist and violent as the men who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church 52 years ago. Racism is an ugly part of our human condition and no matter whom it is targeted against, and who does the targeting, it is wrong and needs to be fought.

The Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org lists 784 active hate groups of all types operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others. (See the Hate Map herehttps://www.splcenter.org/hate-map) The number is down from recent because a number of more the virulent White Supremacist and militia groups have gone underground, shut down websites and social media pages.

Too many people have died in this struggle to stop now. If today you read this before or after going to church, remember those four little girls who died at the hands of four murdering, racist Klansmen. Likewise remember that there are others out there full of hate who would not hesitate to do the same again and others who would actively support those efforts. Sometimes even in the name of God.

As for me I will fight it no matter whom it is against.

Charles Morgan Jr. closed the speech which brought about death threats against him and his family and forced him to leave Birmingham with these words.

“And who is really guilty? Each of us. Each citizen who has not consciously attempted to bring about peaceful compliance with the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, every citizen who has ever said “they ought to kill that nigger,” every citizen who votes for the candidate with the bloody flag, every citizen and every school board member and schoolteacher and principal and businessman and judge and lawyer who has corrupted the minds of our youth; every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred, is at least as guilty, or more so, than the demented fool who threw that bomb.”

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Charles Morgan Jr.

Charles Morgan died in 2009, but after he left Birmingham he went on to lead a remarkable life, especially in his commitment to Civil Rights and Justice. The New York Times obituary noted:

“Among his many cases as a civil rights lawyer, Mr. Morgan sued to desegregate his alma mater, the University of Alabama; forced a new election in Greene County, Ala., that led to the election of six black candidates for local offices in 1969; and successfully challenged racially segregated juries and prisons. After the civil rights movement began to subside, Mr. Morgan, as a leader of the American Civil Liberties Union, fought three celebrated court cases involving protests against the Vietnam War.

He represented Muhammad Ali in his successful court fight to avoid being drafted. He represented the civil rights activist Julian Bond in the early stages of an ultimately successful lawsuit after Mr. Bond had been denied a seat in the Georgia legislature because of his antiwar views. And he defended an officer when he was court-martialed for refusing to help instruct Green Berets headed for Vietnam.”

We cannot ever let ourselves forget that it was supposedly Christian men who bombed a church and killed those four little girls, and that as long as all of us fail to live up to our responsibilities such things will happen again. If we do not, we are as guilty as those who throw the bombs, shoot the bullets, and those preachers, pundits and politicians who deny the fact that these things are still commonplace. This is especially true in the Trump era.

Yes, my friends, we will be at least as guilty as the brazen killers who continue to try to kill the dreams of those who are not like them. As for me, I hope that I will be as committed to stand for the rights of the oppressed and for justice as did Charles Morgan.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Orangeburg Massacre at 50

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Friends of padre Steve’s World,

Thursday was the 50th anniversary of a massacre that most people have forgotten, even if they knew about it. On Febuary 8th 1968 three African American students were killed by police and twenty-seven others wounded while protesting on the campus of South Carolina State University. All were unarmed and none had resisted the police.

In February 2013, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas lamented the “race consciousness” and “sensitivity” of the present time as compared to when he was growing up in Savannah Georgia in the 1960s.

If he were not in a position of nearly unlimited power and influence where he can through a legal opinion overturn established laws regarding voters rights, equal opportunity and discrimination his memory of the era would be laughable. However, Justice Thomas seemed to have missed so much of what was happening to African Americans and others during the Jim Crow Era, the campaigns for resistance in the “segregation forever” movement and the wanton violence used on African Americans who simply wanted the same rights that other Americans enjoyed.

How a man as educated and supposedly aware as Thomas supposedly is can make such an absurd statement is beyond me. In fact it is ludicrous and speaks volumes about how Thomas would willingly cover up the gross injustices that were perpetrated against African-Americans.

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The brutality of those in power against Blacks and their allies  who demonstrated and campaigned for civil rights was widespread. If Justice Thomas did not hear about it in his childhood it was more likely that it was because Blacks had no voice in local or state government, no support in the local media and those who spoke out were brutalized, their homes, churches or businesses burned or or bombed, and for their trouble many went to jail. It took extraordinarily courageous men and women to stand up to the tyranny perpetrated by politicians, police, businessmen, and even church leaders at the local and State level, which were often directly connected to the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in many parts of the South.

Thomas said that he was treated worse by the Northeastern Liberal Elites, than he was in his home town. That may be so, racial prejudice was not unique to the South, in fact some of the worst riots against desegregation occurred in Boston, not far from Thomas’ college Alma mater. In fact in some Northern cities racism and discrimination were as bad than in parts of the South.

Likewise there were incidents of violence in Watts California by the Los Angeles Police Department that helped trigger the Watts Riots. That being said, there can be no doubt that in terms of organized systemic discrimination, persecution, and violence, it was in the South where Blacks suffered the gravest injustice. The South was the unparalleled hotbed of resistance to change, and resistance to the simple desire of people to receive equal treatment under the law.

Today, even many whites remember some of those incidents; the burning of the Freedom Riders bus in Anniston Alabama, the baring of James Meredith from the University of Mississippi, the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in which four little girls going to Sunday School were murdered, the brutal attacks on protestors in that same city that sent Dr Martin Luther King to jail, the murder of Medgar Evers, the murder of the Mississippi Civil Rights Workers, Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

We all know about those, well at least some of us do. They all occurred early in my lifetime and certainly if Thomas didn’t know about them as a child, he most certainly knows about them now. But the good Justice willingly chooses to ignore and treat them if they never happened, to Thomas, those were the “good ole days.”

But such an attitude denies history. It is inexcusable for any man or woman, of any race holding such an important position as Thomas to have, that of a Supreme Court Justice to hold such ahistoric and surprisingly for a Black man to hold such racist views. For man like Thomas, who in his office helps to make and interpret law that affects the civil rights of all Americans it is unconscionable. But then, after Anita Hill I never believed that Justice Thomas has a conscience.

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But for each of those incidents there were many more, some very bloody which have been forgotten. I was reminded of one of those incidents when I was stationed at the Joint Forces Staff College and our Commandant, Rear Admiral John Smith talked about an incident that occurred at his alma mater, South Carolina State University in Orangeburg South Carolina, the Orangeburg Massacre. I think I had read about it once, but I had forgotten about it until he spoke of it during the Black History Month observance.

The massacre occurred on February 8th 1968 when students at the college began to protest for equal access to local businesses, especially at the only bowling alley in town, the All Star Lanes. The owner of the bowling alley refused to allow Blacks to patronize his establishment. In the days leading up to the massacre students were beaten by police as they engaged in peaceful protests in the town.

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The protests continued on campus and hundreds of police and state troopers were dispatched to the scene as well as troops and armored vehicles from the South Carolina National Guard. On the campus about 200 students milled around a dying bonfire.

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It was then that local and state police opened fire on a crowed of students at a bonfire. Contrary to the claims of the police none of the students were armed, three students were killed, and twenty seven wounded. Many of the students were shot in the back. The dead included a college Army ROTC Cadet named Henry Smith, another, a member of the college football team, Samuel Hammond who died reciting the 23rd Psalm with his mother at his side, and lastly the young Delano Middleton, a local high school student who had joined the protest.

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FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to make false statements to Justice Department officials to cover for the State Troopers involved. When nine of the police officers went to trial for excessive use of force all were acquitted. But how could they be? Evidence was suppressed, false statements made and testimony of the victims discounted.

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For years the subject was covered up, and disinformation spread by elected and police officials, including the governor who blamed the protest on outside “Black Power agitators” and who claimed that the protest took place off campus. Activist Cleveland Sellers was convicted of “inciting a riot” and spent seven months in jail. Twenty five years later he was pardoned. It was not until 2001 that a Governor, then Jim Hodges attended the school’s annual memorial and it was not until 2005 when then Governor Mark Sanford made a formal apology for the massacre.

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The massacre received almost no coverage in the national media and was soon forgotten. The energy of most Americans was focused on protesting the Vietnam War, the Kent State Shootings and the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.and the deaths of a few Black students in South Carolina passed without notice in most of the county.

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Justice Thomas and others, whether they be white or black may have historical amnesia, but history is history, even history that those in power desired to cover up.

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History and justice, even belated justice matter because there are those in our country; not all in the South, who would like to roll back the protections that exist in law to protect African Americans and other minorities from institutional discrimination in matters of voters rights and equality. Even today there are business owners who openly boast of their refusal to serve minorities, and are hailed by some for doing so.

I encourage my readers to explore this subject, the book, The Orangeburg Massacre by Jack Bass and Jack Nelson published by Mercer University Press, a number of websites as well as the video here are good places to start.

http://www.democracynow.org/2008/4/3/1968_forty_years_later_a_look

Like Montgomery, Birmingham, Anniston, Memphis and Selma, Orangeburg though forgotten by most, still matters. Denial is not an option, it is up to us the living not to forget and never to let it happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Not Just Words but Actions: My Support for LGBTQ Civil Rights

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am often asked why I write on the topics of civil rights and human rights and why I have over the past few years gone beyond writing but speaking and engaging in peace public protests for these rights. I guess it is because I have to. Writing is easy for me and apart from the occasional death threat from a Neo-Nazi or KKK sympathizer there is little risk. However, getting out in public and speaking or marching with others in support of their rights is not without risk.

As a historian I have always impressed by the struggle for equality and resistance against tyranny. It matters not to me if the cause is that of the African American fighting against slavery, Jim Crow, and continued discrimination; the Native American against whom genocide was committed in the name of a supposedly “Christian American” Manifest Destiny; the Jew targeted by Nazi Race hatred and genocide, or so many others who due to their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or political beliefs have been targeted for subordination or elimination by governments, or mass movements.

One man who inspired me is Charles Morgan Jr., a lawyer in Birmingham Alabama had the courage to confront the people and the culture that allowed the brutal bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 that killed four little girls attending Sunday school and wounded many more. Morgan noted: “It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.” I have embraced his example to speak out publicly when I see the rights of my fellow citizens and other human beings trampled by those who only care about their power and privilege.

On this site I have frequently written about those subjects. Likewise, within the confines of still being a commissioned officer in the United States Navy I continue to support those discriminated and oppressed by people whose political, religious, or ideological beliefs support policies, measures, and ideas that go against the basic guarantees of the United States Constitution, as well as the bedrock ideal of the American experiment, the belief written in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” and reinforced by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg address that this Republic was dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” 

I know that there are many times that people wonder why I continue to write about and even take an active role in promoting the liberties of people who because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity are the targets of discrimination, legislative actions, threats, and violence. As such I write about these issues all the time, however, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I became an actual participant in rallies and marches on behalf of any persecuted group. In my case it was making a deliberate move to openly support my friends in the LGBTQ community.

My support of my LGBTQ friends has perplexed many people who predominantly knew me through church or military settings. The sight of a Christian Navy Chaplain and carer military officer supporting people who until 2012 were forbidden to even reveal under threat of criminal prosecution and discharge from the military that they were Gay, or condemned by the church to discrimination in this life and damnation in the next was anathema to many people who I counted as friends. Since I came out as a straight ally to my LGBTQ friends, many people who I believed were friends have long since written me off simply because my stand contradicted their religious beliefs. That bothers me by I have to move along. Likewise there are others who regardless of their beliefs have remained close friends and been supported even if they disagreed with me. That is a hallmark of true friendship. I honestly believe that if friendship is predicated on religion, political beliefs, or anything but on true care for one another it is not friendship.

It is interesting that almost all of my LGBTQ friends are people who I went to high school, college, attended church with, or served alongside in the military. In fact I didn’t know that most of them were Gay for years because the were closeted and that the act of coming out could cause them incredible harm. Over the years as I came to support them more and more have let me know that they were Gay, knowing that I would both protect their confidence and fully support them and they have come to trust me, and I cannot betray their trust by failing to support them in my words and in my deeds.

Knowing their stories and holding them sacred is important to me. I cannot imagine what it would be like to hold fast to the creeds of the church yet suffer the pain of excommunication because of my sexual orientation. I cannot imagine what it would be like to swear and oath to defend my country and go to war yet still be forced to be silent about the people that I love under the threat of punishment and discharge. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be evicted from my home or denied the opportunity to buy a house because I loved someone of my gender. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be able to be fired from a civilian simply because I was Gay. I don’t have to imagine what it would be like to have your best friends and your life partner forbidden to be with you on your deathbed, because as a hospital chaplain I have seen it happen even as the pastor of the man’s parents screamed at him to repent as he died with a ventilator in his throat.

Sunday I participated in the Equality March in Washington D.C. I was with friends and I represented friends that could not be there. It was important. I have been to D.C. many times but I have never experienced it in such a way, I never dreamed that I would be in any civil rights march that went past so many places that symbolize who we are as Americans including the White House and in front of the Capital building. On the way back home yesterday Judy mention how proud she was that I marched. That meant a lot to me, she is an amazing woman who cares so deeply about others that it humbles me. As we talked I remarked that had I been an adult in the 1960s I would have very likely been marching in support of the civil rights of African Americans.

John F. Kennedy said “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” This is something that I believe with my whole heart and now have decided to back my beliefs and words with action instead of sitting on the sidelines.

Yesterday I had friends who took part in the commemoration of the slaughter of 49 people, including an Army officer at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It was a crime directed at them because they were LGBTQ people and Pulse was a place that they felt safe. Sadly they were not the first to die violently because of their sexual orientation in this country, nor will they probably be the last. That is a reason that I have to speak out. If I don’t I would be complicit in the crimes committed against them by my silence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I will not be a silent friend ever again. This week was for my LGBTQ friends, but I will do so for others as well. I cannot be silent in the face of hatred, even that legislated against already marginalized and despised people by supposedly Christian majorities in various statehouses and Congress. I remember all too well the words of the German pastor Martin Niemoller who wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

As such, I cannot be silent. To do so would betray all that I hold dear.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Freedom Dies When Men Ignore Justice and then No Longer Recognize It

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short thought today. Yesterday was very tiring, we were dealing with a veterinary emergency with our older Papillon Minnie, and also had Judy’s follow-up appointment for the Endometrial Cancer she was operated on for in 2015. It looks like Minnie will be okay, she is spending the night in a fully staffed veterinary hospital where she will be monitored, medicated, and given IV’s after scaring the hell out of us with what our vet diagnosed as Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis, and the hospital vet things might have been Pancreatitis. She had showed no signs of being sick when we went to bed last night but when we got up she had vomited multiple times and was crapping bright red blood. As soon as I saw it I scooped her up, called the vet and drove her there. We finally got home after transferring her to the overnight emergency vet about nine-thirty last night. She’s doing better and hopefully she will be home tomorrow.  Of course in the middle of everything we learned that Carrie Fisher had died and as much as I want to reflect on her life I cannot now, other than to say that I admired her greatly, especially for her openness in speaking about her own mental health issues. When I suffered my own PTSD crisis and decided to speak out and be transparent about my struggles, she was a role model.

But, anyway, as a follow-up to what I wrote yesterday I wanted to share this thought, from the late Charles Morgan Jr. I wrote about his comments in regard to what he said after the bombing to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama some 52 years ago before and think that they are as pertinent in the age of Trump than they were when he wrote them about the Jim Crow South.

Morgan was a well off young Southern gentleman, a lawyer, and a man with a conscience. He was a defender of the civil liberties of many people during his life, most of which were incredibly unpopular when he made his strand.

Morgan made a comment that really stuck in my brain because it is so true. He said,

“It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.”

The truth is that it those small failures; first to turn our backs on justice and to ignore it, and then finally, to fail to even recognize it when justice is being trampled. That is how freedom dies. Sadly, those who most often trample freedoms, usually in the name of God or religion are the last to recognize their complicity in that loss of freedom. Judge Learned Hand spoke these words; “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.”

Sadly, there are too many who will do just that, all to often in the name of their God, or their religion. If we ration justice so that only a few; the rich, and the well off are able to afford it, then we will succeed in standing idly by as injustice becomes the norm. I fear that in the coming months and years that justice itself will become a scarce commodity.

As always I admit that I hope that I am wrong, but from all I read from Trump’s supporters in the so-called Christian Right, the Neo-Nazis of the self-proclaimed Alt Right, and the most radical talking heads on radio, the internet, and heads of  right wing political action groups, I fear that we are in for very rough times unless the President-Elect himself makes a stand, because the Republican Congress has shown time after time that they will not do so.

Have a good day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Justice & Liberty Die Quietly

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short thought today. I am travelling in Germany and Austria and will not get a chance to write much. But I wanted to share this thought, from the late Charles Morgan Jr. I wrote about his comments in regard to what he said after the bombing to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama some 52 years ago earlier a few days ago.

Morgan was a well off young Southern gentleman, a lawyer, and a man with a conscience. He was a defender of the civil liberties of many people during his life, most of which were incredibly unpopular when he made his strand.

Morgan made a comment that really stuck in my brain because it is so true. He said,

“It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.”

The truth is that it those small failures; first to turn our backs on justice and to ignore it, and then finally, to fail to even recognize it when justice is being trampled. That is how freedom dies. Sadly, those who most often trample freedoms, usually in the name of God or religion are the last to recognize their complicity in that loss of freedom. Judge Learned Hand spoke these words; “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.”

Sadly, there are too many who will do just that, all to often in the name of their God, or their religion. If we ration justice so that only a few; the rich, and the well off are able to afford it, then we will succeed in standing idly by as injustice becomes the norm.

If you post a comment and I either do not respond or do not approve it is most likely due to my ability to do so. If nothing else I will do so when I return.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Who is Guilty? Racism & the Birmingham Church Bombing

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

On September 16th 1963 a young Southern White lawyer in Birmingham Alabama spoke these words after a black church was bombed and the police attacked peaceful protesters:

“from anger and despair, from frustration and empathy. And from years of hopes, hopes that were shattered and crumbled with the steps of that Negro Baptist Church.”

Most Americans will not recognize the names and I would dare say that many do not even know about what happened in Birmingham Alabama 52 years ago today. At 10:22 in the morning on September 15th 1963 a bomb exploded during the worship service at the 16th Street Baptist Church. It was one of the most brazen attacks against a church in the modern era, and men who claimed to be “Christians” committed it.

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Four young girls, three 14 year olds and one 13 year old were killed. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley lost their lives that day. Twenty-two other church members were wounded in an attack, which was carried out by members of the KKK and tacitly approved of by many political leaders including Alabama Governor George Wallace. Why were they killed and why were the others wounded? For the crime of being black and the crime of their church serving as a focal point of the Civil Rights movement.

Likewise, most people, including many blacks do not know that before that beginning in 1955 there had been 19 other bombings of black churches and the homes of black leaders in Birmingham before this one. But even before that outbreak of violence, Birmingham had become known as “Bombingham” because over 50 bombing attacks against blacks, black churches and black institutions in the years after the First World War.

The church had served as a focal point of the Freedom Summer where Civil Rights activists and students from around the country had met, trained and organized to register blacks to vote. This made it a prominent target for violence.

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Early in the morning of September 15th four members of the United Klans of America Frank Bobby Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Cash and Robert Chambliss placed a box of 10 sticks of dynamite under the church steps near the basement. A time delay detonator was set o ensure that the church was filled when the bomb went off. The blast occurred as children were entering the to listen to a sermon, ironically entitled “The Love that Forgives.”

The attack was a heinous crime and an act of cold-blooded premeditated murder that maybe a number of years before might not have made the news in much of the country. But this was 1963 and over the preceding months of the Freedom Summer opened the eyes of people across the nation to what was happening in the South. The brutal attacks on many blacks, civil rights workers and student volunteers during that time raised the profile of the Civil Rights Movement and shown the ugly hatred towards blacks held by many Southerners hidden underneath the veneer of polite Southern hospitality.

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Blacks protested and were met with a massive police response coordinated by Governor Wallace that brought about more violence, and more dead blacks. A day later a young white lawyer, Charles Morgan Jr.; a true Southerner by right and heritage spoke to the White Businessman’s club of Birmingham. His words were forceful and to the point. Instead of simply asking why, the young man began his speech with this poignant remark:

“Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday. A mad, remorseful worried community asks, “Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?” The answer should be, “We all did it.” Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it.”

He continued, A short time later, white policemen kill a Negro and wound another. A few hours later, two young men on a motorbike shoot and kill a Negro child. Fires break out, and, in Montgomery, white youths assault Negroes. And all across Alabama, an angry, guilty people cry out their mocking shouts of indignity and say they wonder, “Why?” “Who?” Everyone then “deplores” the “dastardly” act. But you know the “who” of “Who did it” is really rather simple.”

Not only was the attack heinous, but, the response of many in law enforcement at the local level and even at the office of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was criminal. Hoover refused to investigate, and although a witness identified Chambliss, he was not charged with the bombing; instead he was charged for having a case of dynamite without a permit. He was fined $100 and given a six-month jail sentence.

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Thought FBI agents had investigated the crime and discovered evidence against all four men, Hoover ordered the evidence not be provided to local or Federal prosecutors. So for eight years the crime was covered up.

However in 1971 Bill Baxley was elected Attorney General of Alabama. Baxley re-opened the case and requested the FBI files, which had been suppressed by Hoover, who had died in 1972. In 1977 Chambliss was indicted and convicted of first degree murder, he died in prison. Blanton was tried in 2001, convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Cash died in 1994 with ever having been charged with a crime and Cherry was convicted in 2002, sentenced to life in prison and died in 2004.

The attack and the deaths of the four girls served as a catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. However it did not end the fight for equality, and others would die in its aftermath, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who died at the hands of an assassin’s bullet less than 4 years later.

Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voters Rights Act of 1965 many blacks have been elected to local, state and federal offices or served in some of the highest ranks of the military, judiciary, and at the Cabinet level. Two, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have served as Secretary of State, two, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, as Attorney General of the United States; one, Clarence Thomas, as a Justice of the Supreme Court; and one, Barak Obama elected as President of the United States. Black sports stars, actors and singers are celebrated as heroes among much of society.

But despite these advances, racism is still quite prevalent. One of my former co-workers from Georgia, a white Southern Baptist minister and retired military chaplain noted that many whites may not be explicitly racists in interpersonal relationships with blacks, but have an attitude that blacks still need “to stay in their place.” He noted that he thinks that quite a few believe that many whites believe that this is a large part of the reason that President Obama is opposed and even hated by so many whites. It is not just politics or ideology. While politics may play a role the root of the hatred is racism because I cannot for the life of me imagining any white Democrat, including Hilary Clinton getting this kind of treatment.

But the sad truth is there still is an undercurrent of unrepentant racism in the country and not just the South. In fact many places in the South have seen greater advances in racial relations than other parts of the country. That is not to say that there are those who would attempt to disenfranchise blacks, some of the voting laws recently passed are designed to ensure that significant parts of the black population, specifically the elderly and students living away from home have greater difficulty voting. It is actually a more insidious method than past Jim Crow laws because the drafters of these laws hope to keep just enough black and other poor or minority voters from voting to ensure that they maintain power. Some of those who drafted or supported these state laws designed to disenfranchise voters have openly admitted that fact.

Not only is racial prejudice experienced by blacks, it is experienced by many Americans of Hispanic origins, some of Asian descent but also by those of Middle Eastern, Iranian, Pakistani or Indian descent. And yes, people of all races, including racial, ethnic and religious minorities can be as racist and violent as the men who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church 52 years ago. Racism is an ugly part of our human condition and no matter whom it is targeted against, and who does the targeting, it is wrong and needs to be fought.

The Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org lists 784 active hate groups of all types operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others. (See the Hate Map here https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map) The number is down from recent because a number of more the virulent White Supremacist and militia groups have gone underground, shut down websites and social media pages.

Too many people have died in this struggle to stop now. If today you read this before or after going to church, remember those four little girls who died at the hands of four murdering, racist Klansmen. Likewise remember that there are others out there full of hate who would not hesitate to do the same again and others who would actively support those efforts. Sometimes even in the name of God.

As for me I will fight it no matter whom it is against.

Charles Morgan Jr. closed the speech which brought about death threats against him and his family and forced him to leave Birmingham with these words.

“And who is really guilty? Each of us. Each citizen who has not consciously attempted to bring about peaceful compliance with the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, every citizen who has ever said “they ought to kill that nigger,” every citizen who votes for the candidate with the bloody flag, every citizen and every school board member and schoolteacher and principal and businessman and judge and lawyer who has corrupted the minds of our youth; every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred, is at least as guilty, or more so, than the demented fool who threw that bomb.”

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Charles Morgan Jr.

Charles Morgan died in 2009, but after he left Birmingham he went on to lead a remarkable life, especially in his commitment to Civil Rights and Justice. The New York Times obituary noted:

“Among his many cases as a civil rights lawyer, Mr. Morgan sued to desegregate his alma mater, the University of Alabama; forced a new election in Greene County, Ala., that led to the election of six black candidates for local offices in 1969; and successfully challenged racially segregated juries and prisons. After the civil rights movement began to subside, Mr. Morgan, as a leader of the American Civil Liberties Union, fought three celebrated court cases involving protests against the Vietnam War.

He represented Muhammad Ali in his successful court fight to avoid being drafted. He represented the civil rights activist Julian Bond in the early stages of an ultimately successful lawsuit after Mr. Bond had been denied a seat in the Georgia legislature because of his antiwar views. And he defended an officer when he was court-martialed for refusing to help instruct Green Berets headed for Vietnam.”

We cannot ever let ourselves forget that it was supposedly Christian men who bombed a church and killed those four little girls, and that as long as all of us fail to live up to our responsibilities such things will happen again. If we do not, we are as guilty as those who throw the bombs, shoot the bullets, and those preachers, pundits and politicians who deny the fact that these things are still commonplace.

Yes, my friends, we will be at least as guilty as the brazen killers who continue to try to kill the dreams of those who are not like them. As for me, I hope that I will be as committed to stand for the rights of the oppressed and for justice as did Charles Morgan.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Call it Terrorism: Massacre at Emmanuel AME

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“You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Dylann Storm Roof

Last night a young man who the Charleston Police have identified as Dylann Storm Roof, walked into the historic Emanuel Africa Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina. He sat next to the pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who also served as a State Senator for an hour before taking out a gun and opening fire as the meeting broke up. According to survivors he stated that he was at the church to kill black people and he did so, killing nine of the 13 people present including Reverend Pinckney. During the attack a survivor noted that he reloaded his gun five times.

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Reverend Clementa Pinckney

Like many people I am shocked by this but I am not surprised. For decades the mainstream Right Wing media have been chumming the water with enough hatred directed against African Americans, other racial minorities, Moslems and Gays. Such people have been blamed by the Right, and not just the nutty fringe for every evil in our society for so long that it was only a matter of time before an act of terror like the one in this church was committed. Some of those people are already on the air today explaining this away not as an act of racially motivate terrorism, but as another attack on Christians.

However, that was not the case. Yes, these men and women killed by Dylann Roof were Christians, but he killed them because they were black. That is the cold hard fact that no one can get around in this case. He murdered these men and women simply because they were black and they represented a threat to the “White America” that he and other White Supremacists and defend.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest AME church in the South. Nine people died in a hate crime shooting on June 17, 2015.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest AME church in the South. Nine people died in a hate crime shooting on June 17, 2015.


Had Roof simply wanted to kill Christians to really make a point he could have gone to any church. There are plenty of the in Charleston, my God it is known as The Holy City because of the vast number of churches. But instead he went to a church which has a long history of standing up for the civil, social and political rights of blacks dating back to 1816. It was the hub of anti-slavery activism and where Denmark Vesey and others plotted a slave revolt which was ruthlessly crushed by South Carolina’s militia. South Carolina’s government burned the church, scattered the congregation and banned blacks from meeting in organized congregations until after South Carolina was liberated by General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union Army.

We don’t know much about Roof, and I’m sure that we will. However, one thing that I noted was that in one picture Roof was wearing a jacket which had the flag of the old Apartheid South African State and the flag of the also the flag apartheid Rhodesia sewn over the right breast pocket. His car had a decorative Confederate States of America license plate in front. A friend from high school said

“I never heard him say anything, but just he had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs,” he said. “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that. You don’t really think of it like that.” But now, “the things he said were kind of not joking,”

When Roof was captured he appeared to be headed for the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina of Eastern Tennessee. Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Southwestern Virginia are the home of numerous KKK, Neo Nazi and other White Supremacist groups.

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So today even on Fox news, that bastion of balance hosts are scrambling to call this anything but racially motivated terrorism called it a crime against Christians which fits into their ideological content more than the truth that this was racially motivate terrorism. However this was the same kind of terrorism as the notorious KKK sponsored Birmingham Church bombing of September 1963, or the burnings and bombings of black churches in the South before and after that.

Mark my word by this evening some of the more prominent Right Wing radio and internet pundits are going to be blaming this on everything but racism and terrorism. Imagine though if the shooter was a Moslem what they would say. They would have been all over the air labeling all Moslems as jihadist’s intent on killing Christians and demanding action against all Moslems based through guilt by association. That my friends is a fact and it is not in dispute.

In the coming days we are going to find out more about this and it will not be pleasant reading. We are going to find a young man whose heart has been poisoned by hate propagated by both mainstream Right Wing media as well as extremist White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi groups.

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We want to think that we have progressed, but sadly despite a veneer of progress, there still remains a lot of racism and other hatred that lurk beneath the veneer of the post-racial society. Michael Savage who has one of the most popular right wing radio programs in the country described inner-city children as “ghetto slime,” Ann Coulter said in 2013 “Perhaps, someday, blacks will win the right to be treated like volitional human beings. But not yet.” Rush Limbaugh too many too mention, and sadly there are some who call themselves Christian commentators who say even worse and not just about blacks.

Let us call this crime what it is. Racially motivated terrorism.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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