Civil Rights

Solidarity and Sustaining the Beloved Community

Photo: Community image,  Pavel L Photo and Video /

Photo: Community image, Pavel L Photo and Video /

"I expect and am willing to be persecuted, imprisoned, and bound for advocating African rights. And I should deserve to be a slave myself if I shrunk from that duty or danger." -William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionist (1805 - 1879)

With Black History Month coming up in February, many of us will remember the civil rights struggles that have brought us to where we are today. I recently read a fascinating book about that movement focused on the role of women in those efforts called Freedom’s Daughters. It highlights past generations of women activists, both black and white. They led in the struggles for abolition, desegregation, civil rights, and women’s suffrage. These movements carry with them the roots of our contemporary work for justice.

As I considered the lessons from that book I found myself resonating with many challenges, failures, and victories these women experienced, much of which was based on the race and gender dynamics of the day.

As an educated white woman who began my foray into community organizing though a summer internship in my early 20s — like many of the young women in Freedom Summer coming down from the North — I had not yet delved into the complicated nature of race relations in the United States. I started my summer feeling competent, a person who could learn and adapt to changes as I had on many previous international mission experiences. I carried with me an overly simplified belief in the romantic “beloved community.” The beloved community would come about as we worked together, prayed, and marched. 

New & Noteworthy

Landing on a Hundred by Cody ChesnuTT / After Kony: Staging Hope by First Run Feature / Kind of Kin by Rilla Askew / The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation by Stephen R. Haynes

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Julie Polter is Senior Associate Editor at Sojourners.

Rep. John Lewis’ wife, Lillian, dies

John and Lillian Lewis in 1988. Atlanta Journal Constitution file/Johnny Crawfor

John and Lillian Lewis in 1988. Atlanta Journal Constitution file/Johnny Crawford


Amidst the jubilation of the new year and a long awaited solution to the fiscal cliff crisis lies sad news: Lillian Miles Lewis, the wife of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, died Monday morning in Atlanta, his office announced. Spokeswoman Brenda Jones said John Lewis is returning to Atlanta but had no more details to release about the cause of death.

The Lewises had been married 44 years. They have one son, John Miles.

Awful Leads to Wonderful

Farming illustration, Konstantin Sutyagin /

Farming illustration, Konstantin Sutyagin /

Being a teacher is like being a farmer. You rise early in the morning. You irrigate and fertilize the field that is your classroom. You plant the seeds that are reading, writing, and arithmetic. You hope for good soil, warm sunshine, and gentle rain that are good homes, healthy foods, and adequate healthcare for your students. You work with your hands, feet and heart with your plants who are your students. 

Your harvest is your students. 

Your winter season of fallow fields is your summer break of empty classrooms.

Learning From Rep. John Lewis

The Huffington Post's Senior Religion Editor, Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, interviews civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis. Lewis says:

The church should be out front leading the way, and be a headlight rather than a taillight. If you are going to live up to the teachings of the Great Teacher, and follow in the tradition of the great leaders of faith, you have to be out there, shining the light, preaching the Good News and living the Good News. You have to make it real.

Read the full interview here

BREAKING NEWS: Zimmerman to be Charged in Trayvon Martin Case

The Washington Post is reporting:

Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey plans to announce as early as Wednesday afternoon that she is charging neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, according to a law enforcement official close to the investigation.

It was not immediately clear what charge Zimmerman will face.

Martin, 17 and unarmed, was shot and killed Feb. 26 by Zimmerman, who said he was acting in self-defense. Police in Sanford, Fla., where the shooting took place, did not charge Zimmerman, citing the state’s “stand your ground” law.

Corey told reporters Tuesday night that she would hold a news conference about the case within 72 hours. A news release from her office said the event will be held in Sanford or Jacksonville, Fla.

Benjamin Crump, who is representing the Martin family, said this week that Corey’s office had asked where Trayvon’s parents would be each day this week. They arrived Wednesday in Washington for a civil rights conference organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton, where they are scheduled to speak.

This story is developing ...

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ultimate Sacrifice

Forty-five years ago today, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his now-famous speech at Riverside Church in New York City, declaring his opposition to the war in Vietnam. One year later -- 44 years ago today -- he was murdered by an assassin.

It is fitting that these anniversaries occur this year during the week we commemorate the death and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Dr. King’s Riverside speech is frequently quoted, with his scathing political indictment of the war and the systems of exploitation and oppression that led to it. But how often do we remember that he began that speech by noting that while the Nobel Peace Prize was “a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before,” it was not the most important thing. He continued by saying that:

This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I'm speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all … Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them?

Dr. King was able to be the leader he was, take the risks he did, and ultimately make the final sacrifice, because he knew who called him and who he followed. He knew that the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus was a living presence in his life and gave him the hope to follow. 

For him, as well as us, believing in Jesus means being a follower and a disciple in bringing the kingdom he lived and taught. By raising Jesus, by vindicating his life and death, God vindicated his message – the kingdom he proclaimed has come and will come. And because God raised Jesus from death, his living presence continues among us and we are empowered to follow him and to live the kingdom. The resurrection is the event on which our faith and hope depends.   

That faith sustained Dr. King, and it can sustain us.

In St. Patrick's Footsteps: Humor and Humanity

Pilgrims on Croagh Patrick mountain, Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland. Getty Images.

Pilgrims ascending at sunrise Croagh Patrick mountain, Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland. Getty Images.

Fifteen-hundred years ago, a Dublin-based shepherd made his mark on history by turning the Chicago River green, staggering inebriated through the city, and inventing the "Kiss Me I’m Irish" hat. Along the way, he wrote Bushmills whiskey drinking songs about the pain of being alive, mixed a cocktail whose name evokes an act of terror, and dyed his hair red.

He magically expelled snakes from the island of his birth, wrote a lyrical memoir of his terrible childhood, won the Rose of Tralee beauty contest, mixed lager and Guinness together (presumably out of an excess of self-loathing and bad taste), had a great oul’ Famine, stared meaningfully across the Atlantic, and dreamed of America.

But he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.

It’s St Patrick’s Day weekend, and despite the fact that millions of people will celebrate something like this vision of what it means to be Irish, pretty much none of the above is true.

NYPD’s Muslim Surveillance Extended Well Beyond New York

Imam leads muslims in a sermon at Occupy Wall Street by Lev Radin/Shutterstock.

NEWARK, N.J. — The report was stamped top secret.

Inside was a confidential dossier compiled by the New York Police Department documenting "locations of concern" in Newark -- the city's 44 mosques, Muslim-owned restaurants and businesses and Islamic schools.

In 2007, the NYPD began an undercover spy operation within New Jersey's largest city to find and document where Muslims lived, worked and prayed.

Now, city officials and many of those targeted are voicing anger at the disclosures, which came in the wake of an Associated Press report showing that a secret NYPD surveillance program aimed at Muslims had extended well beyond New York City.

"I have deep concerns and I am very disturbed that this might have been surveillance that was based on no more than religious affiliation," Newark Mayor Cory Booker said.

Muslims Petition Attorney General for NYPD Probe

More than 30 Muslim and legal advocacy groups are urging New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to investigate the New York City Police Department after the second scandal in as many weeks involving Muslim Americans.

On Thursday (Feb. 2), The Associated Press reported that it had obtained a secret 2006 NYPD report, "U.S.-Iran Conflict: The Threat to New York City," which recommended that officers "expand and focus intelligence" at Shiite mosques.