Saturday, February 14, 2009

Day 4 - Selma, Alabama

Day 3 in Marion, AL was a great day. I will tell you about it later. But for now:

Day 4 - Saturday - Selma, Alabama
written with Annette Marquis, Rev. Charlotte Cowtan, Rev. Hope Johnson, Janice Marie Johnson

This morning we toured Selma, Alabama. Joanne Bland, co-founder and past director of the National Voting Rights Museum, led us. She repeated yesterday’s admonition that she’s a Southern grandmother and as such, if she’s talking, we best not be. (Properly admonished, we were almost ready to behave for the day.) The bus stopped in front of the Towne Café, formerly the Walker Café where civil rights workers ate. We had a great lunch there later.

We walked down street to the site where three UU ministers – Olsen, Miller, and Reeb – were attacked en route from dinner to Brown Chapel to hear Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s instructions for the next day. The ministers could have turned left leaving the café to return they way they had arrived, but they thought it would be faster to turn right. The shortcut proved deadly.

College students painted a memorial mural on the side of a nearby building. It was a somber moment as we gathered around the memorial plaque for James Reeb and Clark Olsen spoke about the attack and its aftermath.

We were driven to Brown Chapel, and arrived at the same time as members of the Buffalo Soldiers Motor Cycle Club on their civil rights pilgrimage. Neighborhood children looked on with amazement and pride as over a hundred African Americans regally dismounted their Harley hogs and Honda Gold Wings and crossed to Brown Chapel Church AME. I talked with Big Jim from Detroit about the 50 member Michigan chapter.

We followed Joanne around the church to a concrete slab: “Stand on the slab – not up there on that new stuff, down here on the slab.” While we assemble, three neighborhood children come across the basketball court to the fenced playground. It’s flooded in front of the only gate. One child climbs the fence, and two wade in the water. Joanne tells us to each find a rock and a treasure hunt ensues as we discard shards of broken glass (“That’s not a rock!”) in search of small pebbles knocked free from the concrete. She looks at the tiny rock that Bill Sinkford holds “Mr. President, show me that rock” and weaves a story of her grandmother. Janne Eller-Isaacs’ rock magically tells Joanne’s sister’s story. Hannah Eller-Isaacs rock prompts Joanne to ask: “Are you ready for this rock? This is my rock.”

Then, the challenge – we can leave our rocks there on the slab. Or we can each take our rock, but we cannot take them lightly. If we choose to take the rock, we must stay in the work, hold onto the rock as part of our reason. Let the rock anchor us in hard times. As we walk away, Joanne laughs: “ I’m going to have to get more rocks. I know none of you are going to leave yours.” As it turns out, she is right.

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