The Forgotten

Juan Camilo Bernal /

Juan Camilo Bernal /

Charles Carpenter
George Murray
Nolan Harmon
Paul Hardin
Joseph Durick
Earl Stallings
Edward Ramage
Milton Grafman

In towns all across America, streets are not named after them. School children do not learn about them. No one waits in line to see the homes where they were born. They are ... simply forgotten.

They weren’t necessarily bad men. They weren’t unimportant men. They were men of influence, men with a voice and the respect of their community. Most would have agreed; they were good men, according to one, “men of genuine good will.”  While evil men are remembered and great men are enshrined, these men … just forgotten.

They are forgotten for being on the wrong side of history. Men forgotten for being silent when “a word fitly spoken” could have made a difference. Men who are forgotten for valuing comfort and stability over justice and compassion. Forgotten because they were unwilling to call out the status quo, and show it for it was … cruel and unjust.

These are the eight men on the other side of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The recipients. Eight well educated white pastors, priests, and rabbis who by God’s providence led reputable congregations in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.

Hearing Stories of the Past

Storytelling, Ivelin Radkov /

Storytelling, Ivelin Radkov /

I walked down the newly plowed row with my grandpa, feeling the warm, red clay on the soles of my bare feet and listening to his stories and words of advice. I held a tomato plant in my hands, the rich, black potting soil falling off of the small, vulnerable roots, as he knelt and dug a place for it in the garden. “Hey,” he’d often start, “here's something my daddy told me when I was little. ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth because He wants you to listen twice as much as you speak. If you do that, you'll learn something. If you don't, you won't.’”

The memory of walking with my grandpa in his garden came back to me after I read about The Faith and Politics Institute's Civil Rights Pilgrimage in which more than 250 people (including 30 members of Congress) took a three-day tour of civil rights landmarks from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to Montgomery to Selma. The participants in the pilgrimage got to hear the stories of the struggle for justice from the people who were in those places 50 years ago. I especially remember grandpa’s stories about his childhood on the family dairy farm in Greenville, S.C. in the 1920s. I liked to hear stories about the black folks who came and worked with him and his family. I heard hard work in his voice and saw struggle in his face when he talked about those times.

Congressman John Lewis Tells the Story of the March from Selma to Montgomery (VIDEO)

Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners for the Faith and Politics Institute

Congressman John Lewis speaks on the road to Birmingham. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

This past weekend, The Faith and Politics Institute led a three-day Congressional trip to visit Civil Rights landmarks across Alabama — from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to Montgomery to Selma. It was an incredibly moving, emotionally exhausting, soul-quenching pilgrimage as we journeyed along with heroes of the Civil Rights movement and experienced their stories. 

One such hero is Congressman John Lewis. A highlight of the trip for me is recorded at the jump. 

Immigration Reform: The Only Way to Solve America’s Agricultural Woes

Photo: Migrant farm workers in California, spirit of america /

Photo: Migrant farm workers in California, spirit of america /

America is in dire need of comprehensive immigration reform. It is an ethical and moral issue for sure, but it is also an economic one. Our nation’s future economy prosperity depends on migrant labor. Immigration laws that have been passed in states like Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama have severely hurt the state economies, local communities, and small businesses that rely upon migrant workers for farm labor.

The Senior Editor of, John Carney has asserted that there is no crisis related to a shortage of migrant farm workers. Well, to be perfectly blunt, I believe that Mr. Carney is wrong.

Will Alabama’s Governor Listen to the Faith Community?

Photo: Siarhei Fedarenka /

Photo: Siarhei Fedarenka /

Over the past few weeks, Christians have written Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley asking him to stop the immoral practices that plague the state’s criminal justice institutions. This incredible outcry from the faith community demonstrates their outrage at stories of people in poverty spending days, weeks, and months in jail over their inability to pay fees and fines to private companies contracted to administer parts of Alabama’s system. 

When contacted by Sojourners for a response to the thousands of messages received from people of faith about this issue,  Jeremy King, spokesman for Gov. Bentley’s office responded, "We can review this issue and move forward from there."

Alabama Needs to Put People Before Profits

Photo illustration, Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Photo illustration, Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Living in poverty has always been a struggle, but in Alabama being poor could land you in prison. According to a recent story in The New York Times, Alabama resident Gina Ray was locked up for over a month because she couldn’t pay fees and fines related to minor traffic offenses. Speeding while poor shouldn’t land someone in jail. This punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

Why would such morally outrageous penalties be imposed for such minor violations? Because criminal justice has become big business. Private companies are making millions of dollars running prisons, administering probation systems, and providing health care to those living behind bars.

No Turning Back: Alabama Anti-Immigrant Laws Unite Opposition

Courtesy Greater Birmingham Ministries

Protests at the Alabama Statehouse. Courtesy Greater Birmingham Ministries

We lost a bitter legislative battle this year, as Alabama Legislators voted to make the nation's most toxic anti-immigrant law more poisonous than anyone imagined. Added to the notorious HB 56 is a requirement that the names and faces of undocumented persons be plastered on the web and in prominent public places — the new law stops just short of putting targets on their backs. 

Teachers are still required to interrogate schoolchildren about their immigration status. People of faith, Good Samaritans, and family members are now felons if they knowingly drive five undocumented children to the store, the doctor, or Vacation Bible School. Racial profiling provisions make every trip to school, work, and church a nightmare.

The legislators — all Republicans — must have laughed all the way to golf games waiting for them back in their districts. They think they won.

Alabama Pastor's Take on Latest Anti-Immigrant Legislation

Photo by Kathryn Kendrick, Greater Birmingham Ministries

HB 658 protest at the Alabama state house. Photo by Kathryn Kendrick, Greater Birmingham Ministries

Here we are today, caught in an economic slump, finding ways to once again dehumanize those that we encouraged to come. The very people who have harvested our food, built our homes and served us over the past 30-plus years, we now declare criminals.

In my beloved Alabama, where 3 percent of the population (largely Hispanic) is estimated to be undocumented, our state government has created the harshest and most egregious anti-immigrant laws in the country. Rep. Micky Hammon and Sen. Scott Beason, sponsors and writers of HB56, stated that these laws would create an atmosphere of “self deportation.” I can only wonder how Native Americans might feel about that concept.

HB56 — passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley in June 2011 — has now been replaced by HB658. The stated purpose of the new legislation was to simplify HB56 and make enforcement less complicated. In the process, stricter guidelines and harsher treatment were incorporated while simplification was ignored.

I am compelled to look at this law as a child of God within the Christian faith, accepting that all people in this world are my brothers and sisters, created by the God who breathed life into me and into them, making us one family.

Alabama’s Indefensible New Immigration Law

By Ryan Rodrick Beiler for Shutterstock.

Father and child at an immigration march in Washington, D.C. By Ryan Rodrick Beiler for Shutterstock.

Last week, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley made a morally indefensible decision. He signed HB 658, which intensifies the climate of fear that already hangs over Alabama like low dark clouds before a hurricane.

Bentley once claimed that HB 658 would simplify HB 56 — the current anti-immigrant legislation that catapulted Alabama to the national stage. If this is simplification, then I’d like to see Bentley’s version of messed up. HB 658’s additional punitive measures now have created a more problematic situation that exacerbates the current oppression of some of the most vulnerable souls in Alabama.  

The new law is reckless. HB 658 calls for the creation of an online public database to expose the names of all undocumented immigrants who have appeared in court. In addition, the law targets innocent children by requiring schools to check the immigration status of students.

Immigration: Joel Osteen Gets Political

Joel Osteen brought his evangelistic revival to Nationals Park in Washington, DC last month. Photo by Getty Images.

In an uncharacteristic move, televangelist and bestselling author Joel Osteen, senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, stepped into the political arena briefly to talk about Alabama's House Bill 56, the strictest anti-illegal immigration legislation in the nation.

Osteen, who unlike many of his television compatriots, normally eschews entering into the political fray,  was in Alabama last week for an event and during an interview with a local television station, a reporter asked him about having to choose between faith and breaking civil laws, in the context of HB56, which would make it illegal for undocumental immigrants to receive any public benefits at the state or local level, attend publicly-owned colleges or universities, transport, harbor, employ or rent property to undocumented immigrants in Alabama.