My adoptive dad’s family goes back five generations in Mississippi. They endured the most ruthless lashes of American slavery and the most brutal state-sponsored terrorism during the Jim Crow legal regime. In fact, my dad personally had a brush with the Klan as a child. The Ku Klux Klan broke up an evening meeting at his grandparents’ church in the early 1950s. He doesn’t remember much about the night, except the terror. In his adult years, he looks back and realizes they were probably organizing.
Organizing… in Mississippi… before Rosa Parks said “No” in Montgomery, Ala. My grandparents were organizing.
Yet even my family history—along with images of sneering white southerners during the desegregation of Little Rock High School, complicit whites riding near-empty buses during the Montgomery bus boycott, and white officers hosing down black children in Birmingham, Alabama—did not prepare me for what I encountered when I traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, last month.
I boarded a plane in Washington, D.C., to fly to Montgomery early on December 17. There I would conduct Sojourners Organizing training for Immigration Reform in partnership with the Greater Birmingham Ministries (GBM), a faith-based organization dedicated to building more just communities and systems in Alabama.