From Ava DuVernay’s award-winning film to President Obama’s speech at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, America has remembered Selma this year. We have honored grass-roots leaders, acknowledged the sacrifices of civil rights workers and celebrated the great achievement of the Voting Rights Act. At the same time, we have recalled the hatred and fear of white supremacy in 1960s Alabama. But we may not have looked closely enough at this ugly history.
Even as we celebrate one of America’s great strides toward freedom, the ugliest ghosts of our past haunt us in today’s “religious freedom” laws.
Many able commentators have pointed out the problem of laws that purport to protect a First Amendment right to religious freedom by creating an opportunity to violate other people’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. But little attention has been paid to the struggle from which the 14th Amendment was born — a struggle that played out in Selma 50 years ago and is very much alive in America’s statehouses today.
We cannot understand the new religious freedom law in Indiana and others like it apart from the highly sexualized backlash against America’s first two Reconstructions.
The images of that day in 1965 were quickly seared into the American consciousness: helmeted Alabama state troopers and mounted sheriff’s possemen beating peaceful civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala., as clouds of tear gas wafted around the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
On March 7, 1965 — a day that would become known as “Bloody Sunday” — 600 marchers heading east out of Selma topped the graceful, arched span over the Alabama River, only to see a phalanx of state and local lawmen blocking their way on U.S. Highway 80.
The police stopped the marchers, led by Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and ordered them to disperse. Then they attacked. Lewis, one of 58 people injured, suffered a skull fracture. Amelia Boynton Robinson, then 53, was beaten unconscious and left for dead, her face doused with tear gas.
Photos of that terrible day were seen around the world. Historians credit the beatings, and the public outrage that followed, as a catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Rodnell Collins stood next to his uncle, Malcolm X, as the latter stared thoughtfully at Plymouth Rock during a visit to Massachusetts when Collins was a child.
It wasn’t until years later that Collins, the son of Malcolm’s sister, Ella Little Collins, would learn what his uncle was thinking: “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. The rock was landed on us.”
Malcolm X, the African-American nationalist leader and onetime minister of the Nation of Islam who was assassinated 50 years ago Feb. 21, inspired countless people with the frank and uncompromising way he spoke about race relations in America. And much of what he said about the experiences of black Americans remains true today, experts say.
Yet, while other civil rights leaders of the 1950s and ’60s are more broadly celebrated as American heroes, the fire with which Malcolm X spoke still overpowers the words he was saying.
Revolutionary love has given birth to new life.
We are gasping, breathing (I can’t breathe)
Screaming (We have nothing to lose but our chains)
We have been in the womb long enough
Blinking to the blinding light of the revolution
Our eyes adjusting
And we answer with what love looks like in public
I’ve been thinking about the life birthed out of revolutionary love. The night I met Waltrina, we stayed up until an ungodly hour — instant sister-friends. We bonded, talking about everything, about finding and losing faith — in God and humanity — then slowly picking it up again piece by piece, about being the diversity in mostly white professional spaces, about friends, family, and the struggle to find our places (as 30-somethings) in this “new” freedom movement.
Out of a deep revolutionary love inspired by Jesus and nourished from the well of our people, we have determined to get in where we fit in, living out the belief that there is a place for everyone in the movement.
Today's fight against the powers and principalities of systemic injustice cannot be left to the continued service of the elders that survived the 1960s civil rights movement, nor hoisted solely upon the shoulders of the teens and 20-somethings of today, just because they have energy and new ideas. Despite the focus on elders and youth, this is an intergenerational movement that requires all of us to answer the communal call. I am encouraged by one of my mentors, Mama Ruby (Sales) who says it is time to have all hands on deck.
The zeitgeist is clear. Much like Emmett Till’s murder in 1955 sparked the civil rights movement, the tragic string of murders of blacks in 2014 catalyzed another movement, the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This movement picks up where the civil rights movement left off, addressing systemic racial injustice in the legal and penal system, educational system, and economic system. In some ways, the battles we fight are more challenging than the ones our grandparents fought. Undeniably, we face off in a more complex world and against forms of systemic racism that are so subtle that they are almost invisible. Nevertheless, due to a unique combination of gifts and experiences, I’m hopeful that my generation of black millennials is ready to lead us on to a more equitable society. Here’s why.
1. We are propelled by the prophetic legacy of the past.
With a technological savvy that gives us unprecedented access to the true history of our people, and as perhaps the last generation to breathe the same air as the civil rights generation, we draw upon the legacies of the past as we move forward. When I sense that my capacity to forgive is waning, I recall my recent conversations with several survivors of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., and I’m reminded of the inner healing that forgiveness promises. When I am tempted to pander to the powers that be, I call my radical granddad and ask him to tell me again about the many Black Panthers meetings that took place at the church he pastored in Berkeley, Calif., in the 1960s. When I feel that I’m losing my courage, I read Ida B. Wells’ autobiography and am reminded that we are not alone. We are connected — part of a chain of black activists, each generation inspiring the next. Our heroes guide us every day.
1. Here Is What Happens When Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type Makes A New Year’s Resolution
These may or may not be scarily accurate...
2. The Birth of a New Civil Rights Movement
“The shattering events of 2014, beginning with Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, in August, did more than touch off a national debate about police behavior, criminal justice and widening inequality in America. In 2014, the new social justice movement became a force that the political mainstream had to reckon with.”
3. 10 Resolutions for 2015
“We often only use the word in the context of this season, but “resolution” is a nuanced noun. Some of its definitions include: A firm decision to do or not to do something; the quality of being determined or resolute; the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter. In a world of seemingly endless conflicts, I sure like the sound of that. We need more of all of these qualities just now in this brand new year.”
4. The Tragedy of the American Military
“The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win.”
This week, I saw a torrent of debate about who reached for the gun and why police don’t shoot people in the leg rather than taking their lives. Neither angle seems to capture the bigger story at play on the evening news and fueling protest marches across Missouri.
On Sunday I preached to my church on race, current affairs and how to process — in a biblically loving way — what has been happening to brothers and sisters in Ferguson. (See video below) Talking about race and current affairs can be taboo in evangelical churches, and it was interesting as I saw a few couples exit the back door as I spoke.
Last week, I penned my thoughts on why we should pray for the saints in Ferguson. It was the outgrowth of my personal frustration and the pain I feel over the misunderstandings on race that can pervade the majority culture.
Editor's Note: In light of this week’s events in Ferguson, Missouri, several writers at ON Scripture took a few moments to reflect upon what they would/will be preaching on this Sunday. To continue the conversation, join on Twitter at #onscripture.
Eric D. Barreto, Associate Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary: St Paul, MN
The last thing a preacher wants to do on a Saturday night is to log into Facebook.
I exaggerate, of course, but I found myself scrambling last week when I learned of Michael Brown’s shooting last Saturday. My sermon for Sunday morning was ready to go. But I had to reassess all my work when I heard the witness of so many African American friends in particular as the news from Ferguson began spreading across social media. The frustration and disbelief, rage and disappointment, resignation and passion I heard moved me. But even more convicting was the fact that so many others were simply unaware of this event at the moment and unfazed by its repercussions.
In certain communities, no one had to pay attention to Michael Brown. In certain communities, his death did not resonate with significance. In certain communities, no one would confront the preacher and ask why she did not respond to the death of this young person.
And yet in other communities, his death was a touchstone, a cause for prayer and lament and righteous anger and faithful expectation.
These distinct reactions are a raw reminder that our communities of faith remain largely segregated. Though we worship the same God, the contexts within which we seek God’s face are radically different. In such a divided context, what does it look like to love your neighbor? What does it look like to be “one” church even as we are profoundly divided?
Civil rights and religious groups say efforts to rid federal agencies of anti-Muslim bias have faltered and prejudice against Muslims persists, particularly in the training of anti-terrorism officers.
On Thursday, 75 groups—including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Auburn Seminary, and the NAACP—sent a letter to the White House urging an audit of federal law enforcement training material.
“The use of anti-Muslim trainers and materials is not only highly offensive, disparaging the faith of millions of Americans, but leads to biased policing that targets individuals and communities based on religion, not evidence of wrongdoing,” the letter reads.
A National Security Council representative said the letter will be reviewed and a response issued.
“As we said when these news reports first came to light, the use of racial or ethnic stereotypes, slurs or other similar language by employees is both unacceptable and inconsistent with the country’s core values,” said Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokeswoman.
The groups point to a reference to “Mohammed Raghead” in a memo and the claim by a former FBI official that the CIA’s director is a “closet Muslim.”
50 years later, poverty is still an issue in America.
I cannot say I am the greatest dancer. I enjoy all types of music. The rhythms of my eclectic taste often entice me to move. Naturally, I easily find myself swaying this way or that way. My feet are not far behind. Only sheer foolishness would compel me to compare my dancing with grace and gifts of Beyonce, Tina Turner, or any champion from Dancing With the Stars. I know my limits. That’s one of the first steps to being successful: know what you can and cannot do.
I can do the basic two-step. A step to the right. A step to the left. A step up. A step back. I do not have to think about it. Just a simple one-two, one-two, and the sounds tickling my ears manifest in my feet. There is no harm if all I do song-in and song-out is slide to right, shimmy to left, take it to top and prance it back. A simple motion of one foot forward and one foot backward, and I am at peace relishing in the music of the moment.
Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the senseless slaughter and lynching of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner during Freedom Summer in Mississippi. They gave their lives to insure that every person in Mississippi would have the right to vote and be a full citizen of this nation. This interracial trio believed with all their hearts that it was worth it to put their bodies on the line for racial justice and dignity, and they paid the ultimate price.
We have come a long way in the last 50 years, but the recent deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in Florida remind us that much work remains, and that white supremacy may have taken different forms, but it is alive and well. And today, white supremacy operates most powerfully at the subconscious level. And it has to do with an innate feeling of superiority.