Selma. October 9, 2012Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
At Brown Chapel AME, there are two different places where martyrs to the Civil Rights Movement (or “The Movement”) are honored: four people who died in service to the cause in 1965: Jonathan Daniels, James Reeb, Jimmie Lee Jackson, and Violet Liuzzo. This is the church that was the hub for mass meetings in Selma. It was where all three marches started from (Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, and the finally-successful Selma to Montgomery March). I have seen pictures of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Fred Shuttlesworth speaking at the pulpit.
When I walked in, I had an almost overhwleming urge to lay my body out on the floor in front of the communion rail and weep.
On Bloody Sunday, after the law enforcement officers started tear gassing, beating and chasing down the peaceful marchers, the marchers ran back here, to Brown Chapel AME. Officers on horseback rode up the stairs to the church as people ran to get inside. Those that didn’t make it were beaten.
Preparing for Turn-around Tuesday, two days later, King had called clergy and leaders from the white and black community to please, come to Selma. They did. In that chapel, there were folks of all ages, races, and religions. The Brown Chapel member who shared her story with us said it was the most beautiful sight she has ever seen in her life.
She shared that she was a junior in High School in 1965. After school, the students would go to First Baptist down the road to get trained by SNCC in how to march and be nonviolent. Then they would walk the few blocks to Brown Chapel AME for a mass meeting (which always started with singing and with praying). The place would be packed, not even standing room. Chairs were put in the aisles because the Fire Department really didn’t care if people couldn’t get out in case of fire.
I wanted to lay myself out on the floor and weep. Because so much that is so important to me happened in that sanctuary: people came together, overcame their differences, and rose to a higher purpose. That sanctuary proved to me, personally, that anything is possible. It spoke to me and said “don’t give up.” As a white woman who was not even alive during this time period, I was spiritually moved. And so, so deeply grateful.
From Brown Chapel, we went to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We formed a column two people wide, and walked across in silence.
I am not a poet, but sometimes words come to me in rough poetry form. Here are my (unedited) reflections on crossing the bridge:
To walk that bridge
as a white woman
born in the decade after Bloody Sunday
is to try to understand.
That March day was cloudy.
Today, the sun shines bright, reflecting on the water below.
We go up, up.
People in front of me.
People behind me.
I can’t see anything except up the sky.
What was it like, that overcast day?
Did those walking take comfort in their fellow walkers?
Even at the crest, I can’t see what might be waiting on the other side.
Still only people and sky.
And then, finally, I am high enough and far enough away
to see where the police would have lined up
with their riot gear
down past the base of the bridge
knowing that the marchers would be able to see them as they walked on.
Their fear, their anxiety, increasing with each step.
Did the marchers have any idea what would happen that day?
Did they tell themselves, as I would have, that surely it will be just fine?
Because they knew in their blood and bones that they were hat.
And they would not take it anymore.
I hope that gave them strength.
And then, to be set upon.
The violence. The chaos.
Run, run, run – back up the bridge.
Back down the other side, still not safe.
Put your hands up to protect your head.
Run, run, run – back to the church.
Back to home.
Tear gas in the air all the way for miles.
Run, run, run – up the stairs,
into the church.
Get in, get in,
and get help for those who didn’t make it.
And then, when it was over,
to summon the strength to try again.
Third time’s the charm.
Making history. Being heard.
The rocks at the base of the bridge on the Montgomery side quote Joshua 4:21-22.
“When your children shall ask you in time to come saying ‘What means these 12 stones?’ You shall tell them how you made it over.”