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

SixteenthStBaptistBomb05

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.

MCNAIR ROBERTSON COLLINS WESLEY

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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To be Dedicated to the Task Remaining: Gettysburg and the 33rd Anniversary of My Commissioned Service

staffride

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I spent the 33rd anniversary of being a commissioned officer in the United States Military leading the last portion of a Staff Ride at Gettysburg with the officers, Command Sergeant Major and First Sergeants of the Army Recruiting Battalion based in Cleveland Ohio. In fact today was the portion dealing with Pickett’s Charge and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It was a fitting thing to be doing today.

Thirty-three years ago I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army at UCLA. I spent 17 1/2 years in the service, including some National Guard enlisted service before I was released by the Army Reserve to enter the active duty Navy.

commissioning

Commissioning Ceremony at UCLA

I am not going to talk about the long strange trip that my life has been since I was commissioned as I have done that before a number of times. Today I think was fitting because I talked about the defeat of the Confederate invasion that was meant to permanently rip the country that I serve now apart. And frankly, as a commissioned officer I have no doubt that the defeat of the Confederacy and all that it stood for was absolutely necessary for the proposition in the Declaration of Independence that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal….” 

These were words which Abraham Lincoln began to universalize beginning with the Emancipation Proclamation which were echoed in his Gettysburg Address. I always finish the Staff Ride at the Soldier’s Cemetery and conclude by reading Lincoln’s “brief remarks.” For me they are the proposition, the spirit that guides the United States, and Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg, that It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Those words for the basis of so much that has happened since Gettysburg; the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment which overturned the travesty of the Dred Scott Decision and and the Fugitive Slave Act by ensuring that anyone born in this county is a citizen with full citizenship rights, and the 15th Amendment which gave Blacks the Right to vote. Those were the beginning, and the 14th Amendment was the most important, for it was the first Constitutional Amendment which extended rights to peoples formerly enslaved, and formed the basis for, and legal precedent for further extensions of civil rights. They were followed by the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote, the American Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, and the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1943, continued them. Laws meant purely to discriminate against the rights of African Americans and other minorities were overthrown by Supreme Court decisions such and Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which overturned the “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws which had been upheld by the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1894. These were joined by the Voting Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Act of 1965, the revocation of laws which banned homosexuals from serving in the military, and most recently the Obergfell v. Hodges decision that allowed LGBTQ people to marry and receive the same rights as heterosexual couples anywhere in the country.

Of course there is still so much to be done. People whose political ideology is rooted in the same limits on freedom as were the foundation of the Confederacy still fight basic civil rights for people that they despise at every opportunity.

The oath that I swore when I was commissioned thirty-three years ago, and which I have repeated with every promotion, and when I transferred to the Navy in 1999 states that “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.”

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I take that seriously, and every time I go to Gettysburg I have the importance of that reaffirmed as I walk the battlefield and stand in the Soldier’s Cemetery, and ponder what those men who stood in the path of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia fought for, and which I have both fought for and swear to maintain, against all enemies, foreign and domestic. My task is also to continue to labor for and be dedicated to the task remaining; that from the honored dead who lay at Gettysburg and so many other places, that I take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that I here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

For me those words are personal, and that my friends is why I continue to serve, and why what was done and said at Gettysburg means so much to me.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Who is Guilty? Racism & the Birmingham Church Bombing

SixteenthStBaptistBomb05

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.

MCNAIR ROBERTSON COLLINS WESLEY

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.

1179981

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.

315

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.

765026275

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.”

10morgan01-190

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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Filed under christian life, civil rights, crime, History, Political Commentary

Bloody Sunday at 50

bloody-sunday-selma-alabama-1965-852

Today Representative John Lewis led a thousands of people on a march to commemorate the March 7th 1965 Selma march, a march that the then 25 year old Lewis, working for voting rights as a leader of the SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee both led and organized.  In today’s march, Lewis was accompanied by President Barak Obama and nearly 100 members of Congress. They were joined by former President George W. Bush and his ice Laura. Though about two dozen Republican members attended, sadly, of the Republican House or Senate leadership only Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy bothered to show, changing his mind late Friday. Lewis remarked today:

“We come to Selma to be renewed. We come to be inspired. We come to be reminded that we must do the work that justice and equality calls us to do…”

This is profoundly important today.

In 1965, the political and police leaders of Alabama, including Governor George Wallace, as well as those of Selma, determined to stop any movement that might advance the cause of blacks acted to crush the marchers.  Wallace denounced the march as a threat to public safety and promised to stop it. He ordered the State Police to take all measures to ensure that it did not happened. In Selma, the county sheriff ordered all adult white males to report to the courthouse to be deputized.

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On the 7th some 550-600 protesters led by Lewis and the Reverend Hosea Williams and began their march. All went well until they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. There they ran into a phalanx of State Police. The commander of those men ordered the marchers back. Williams attempted to discuss the matter with him and was rebuffed. It was then that the State Police advanced into the ranks of the demonstrators. They knocked them down, and beat them with nightsticks. Another group of State Police began to launch tear gas which incapacitated the unprepared and peaceful crowd. Still more mounted troopers charged into the now struggling mass of people beating them with nightsticks as they rode through the demonstrators.

riot; chaos; violence

Dozens of marchers, men, women and children, including Lewis were injured. Seventeen required hospitalization. Wallace appeared to have succeeded in stopping the march, but instead the images of the brazen brutal acts committed by his police energized people around the country, including President Johnson.

It triggered additional demonstrations not only in Selma, but in Montgomery, the State Capital. While the demonstrations were peaceful, and the later march which took place on March 21st was protected by U.S. Army soldiers and Alabama National Guard troops under Federal orders, more protesters would be killed or injured. Reverend James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston was attacked by a white mob armed with clubs. He died of massive brain trauma two days later. On March 25th, Viola Luizzo, a white mother from Detroit who had come to support the marchers, was assassinated by members of the KKK.

The marches led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As he introduced the act to Congress Johnson noted:

“Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

Fifty years later, the battle is still not over. I know that much progress has been made in my lifetime, from my experience in high school where due to a court order I went to school with people I would have never met, people who today, are among my best friends.  Racism and discrimination are not as bad as they were back in 1965, but sadly they are still all to common and not just in the South, and its reach extends far beyond blacks, although African Americans still suffer the brunt of it.

President Obama gave an amazing and inspiring speech today at the Pettus Bridge. I recommend that you either watch it or read it. Here is just a part of what he said today:

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?

What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people – the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many – coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:

“We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

These are not just words. They are a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny… 

The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge is the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot and workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.

That’s what makes us unique, and cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity…

The actions of those who marched at Selma in 1965 and the words of the President appeal to the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, they appeal to what Abraham Lincoln called “the new birth of freedom.”

That being said, we shall overcome.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

52 Years: Musing on Life and Civil Rights in 2012

Trayvon Martin and Emmit Till

Well about this time of night some 52 years ago my mom was deep into a very long day of labor at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland California. 52 years and it doesn’t really seem that long but it is. When I was born Dwight Eisenhower was President and his Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy were preparing to run against each other for the Office of President.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists like Medgar Evers were campaigning for the rights of Black Americans and others and would lose their lives in doing it within a few years. In that time Blacks were violently attacked even in church, the 15 September 1963 Street Baptist Church bombing. Just 6 years before I was born a 14 year old boy named Emmit Till was murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman. His killers backed by a surge of popular support were acquitted of the murder and a few months later confessed to the murder unable to be prosecuted under double jeopardy. Blacks did not gain legal protections enjoyed by whites until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When I was a teenager my home town of Stockton California desegregated its schools. I am proud to be part of the first class at Edison High School that completed all of its high school years in that environment.  I remember those times fondly and my friends there are all my “Soul Vike” brothers and sisters.

I know this is a weird start to a birthday article but I never believed that I would see racism become fashionable again.  But then I should have seen it coming because it has always been there maybe just under the surface but still there.  Back in 2009 I was attacked and threatened by a White Supremacist in response to articles about world War II and a baseball game on this site.

So when I started reading responses of certain media and political figures to the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman it struck a chord. I have been following the case online and have read a good number of posts by people “defending” Zimmerman by making the most racist and hateful comments maligning the dead kid and those that have the nerve to make this killing an issue.

No one is perfect and I am not calling for a mob approach to justice that would condemn Zimmerman without a full and impartial investigation and if need be a trial. However that being said if no one bothered to raise Trayvon Martin’s death the story would be buried deeper that Trayvon.  Without the actions of some nationally known activists and media personalities Zimmerman would never be forced to account for his actions that night in which he killed Trayvon. Zimmerman is said to have allegedly killed in self defense despite defying police who told him not to pursue or confront the teenager and the police at the minimum did a terribly inept investigation and at worst were complicit in a cover up that now may involve leaking material to a local reporter that they believe is helpful to painting the dead kid in a negative manner.

That bothers me. It reminds me of what I have read of reaction to and defense of the murderers that killed Emmit Till.  If Zimmerman did nothing wrong and if Trayvon Martin actually attacked him first a thorough investigation would have left no doubt. Zimmerman is innocent until proven guilty but he may never even face trial based on the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law.  I just don’t get the convoluted arguments that self defense trumps even a fair and thorough investigation of of a man that used a gun to kill another. But now all we have is the trigger puller’s account to rely on and the stultifying spin of his defenders who seem more intent on killing the victim once again than they are on finding out what really happened. The Sanford Police have probably ensured that will never happen by not doing the ballistics, gunpowder residue and other normal procedures that would show what happened. That is not justice.

I was perusing a Christian blog which the matter was being discussed and I think that what I read there was the most discouraging as people professing to be Christians were in the lead trashing the life of a dead kid and making comments on race, African Americans and civil rights that if they were said about White Christians that would be decried in the right wing press and blogosphere.

I wonder at times how far we have come.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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