Keeping your Selma Warm

Much of our experience on the march involved us examining, “What is your Selma?”

My friend Jeimy from #bus2 (and Puerto Rico)  remarked at one of our final reflections that as a community, we’ve created a quilt…and now we can keep our Selmas warm for one another.

What does it mean to “keep your Selma warm?” 

Continue reading Keeping your Selma Warm

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Alabama Roadkill Bingo

Because you’re all wondering, and those vultures circling overhead needed something to nibble on.

  • Coyote
  • River otter (rather the saddest, for this Puget Sound girl)
  • Deer
  • Possum
  • More possum
  • Oh my sweet heavens, would the vultures please get down and eat this possum
  • There was something with scales. A lot of very flattened, very scaly things. Pretty sure it was armadillo. Pretty sure the two-dimensionality of it is why I can’t 100% confirm it, although apparently their range is expanding rapidly in the southeastern United States.

Runner up:

Not dead, but deadly: rattlesnake.

Be Swift, my Soul, to Answer Him! Be Jubilant, my Feet!

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. 

How long? Not long,  because:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; 

He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. 

O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!

Our God is marching on. Glory, hallelujah!  Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on. 

— Conclusion of speech”How Long, Not Long” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered March 25, 1965 in Montgomery at the end of the Voting Rights March

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Our National Park Services staff during the 50th Anniversary Selma to Montgomery Walking Classroom has been without peer.

The team consisted of interpretive, logistics, medical, and security staff from around the Southeast Region. They were assembled based on their own unique skills and experiences, and my, how bright they shone.

The interpretive staff designed learning experiences along a 54-mile trail over a 5 day period for 150 members of the public and 150 youth from 18-25.

Read that sentence again.

You’ll feel tired.

Because what that really means is that they patiently waited through approximately 3 million steps, 9,000 bathroom trips, multiple daily bus attendance checks, and myriad urgent, yet uniquely personal concerns about blisters, water, soggy sleeping bags, and lunch breaks to tell us amazing stories.

Continue reading Be Swift, my Soul, to Answer Him! Be Jubilant, my Feet!

Day Four: Hopeless Causes

Saint Jude is the patron of hopeless cases. As a Catholic, I’ve never much considered asking Saint Jude for intercessions…things have just never been that bad.

But the City of St. Jude in Montgomery was built in the 1930s by a priest from Ireland, Fr. Purcell. And I think he was probably not far off in the choice he made naming the area…it includes a convent, a school, a hospital, a parish, social services…all built on a parcel of land that was and still is predominantly Black and fairly economically depressed.

It’s not hard to imagine that building one of the few havens where Blacks could seek education and medical care in that part of the city in the segregated South seemed a hopeless cause.

Continue reading Day Four: Hopeless Causes

Twelve miles in the mist. With a baby. Again.

When I mention that Edith and are coming from Seattle, nine times out of ten my fellow marchers will chuckle and say, “Oh, you’re used to this.”

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Photo: Lauren Hughes

For our two long days (12-13 miles) we’ve had cloudy skies, mist, rain, the occasional shower. It’s been great, since carrying Edith is like having my own personal furnace, I appreciate the temperatures not hitting the 80s while we’re on asphalt. And the marching songs are invigorating:

Pick ’em up

And set ’em down

All the way

From Selma town

The theme today was on martyrs for the cause. A sobering, sobering reality after flying so high on the heels of Dr. Bernard Lafayette’s talk and following our triumphant entry to the site of “Tent City.:  It was a quiet, contemplative day. A long walk in the rain. A visit to a memorial for a young mother.

When we got tired, we held up four fingers. Four for the martyrs of the Voting Rights March.

Jimmie Lee Jackson — a pulp mill worker, a deacon, and a man who had tried to register to vote five times. At the time of his death defending his mother and grandfather, he never had. His brutal killing at the hands of Alabama state troopers was the catalyst for the march.

Rev. James Reeb — a Unitarian minister, an advocate for social justice, a white man. He answered Dr. King’s call for clergy to come to Selma for peaceful witness. Reverend Reeb was beaten to death by white separatists in the days after Bloody Sunday. President Johnson sent yellow roses and his best wishes to the hospital for Reverend Reeb.  Reverend Reeb’s death — the death of a “white man of God” was another powerful message to wake a nation to the sickness of systematically denying fellow citizens franchise.

Viola Liuzzo — a mother of five, a woman of faith, an NAACP activist in Detroit, she answered the call from Selma. While driving back to Selma after the march ended successfully in Montgomery, she was shot by the Klan. Her passenger, a Black man named Leroy Martin, smeared her blood all over himself so that by lying still the Klan members would also think he was also dead. Her last essence of life protected his.

Jonathan Daniels — a young Episcopal seminarian, he heard the call and stayed in Selma. Working with a Catholic priest and several other young people, Jonathan died trying to integrate a convenience store in Lowndes County. He gave his life when a white “deputy” pulled a gun on a young, Black woman activist and Daniels stepped in the way. The Voting Rights Act was eleven days old.

So you think about those martyrs, and your baby’s not so heavy. Your feet aren’t that sore. Your legs aren’t that tight.

March on.

What’s Your Selma?

What’s your Selma?

This question has been woven into the very fabric of our time on the trail. We talk about the history of course, and interlace our stories onto this holy landscape.

What’s your Selma?

For one lovely couple from South Carolina, it’s been the freedom to marry. Following in the footsteps of the non-violent protesters who integrated lunch counters, they’ve applied, repeatedly, for a marriage license. Same county office. Same county employee. Crew of allies and supporters in tow, video rolling.

Denied.

Denied.

Denied.

Denied.

Denied.

Denied.

Denied.

Are you that brave?

Have you ever been to a better party than the one they’re gonna throw this fall when they’re finally able to marry?

What’s your Selma? I had a long talk with a young woman this morning whose life was an itinerant one, bounced from foster care to adoption to having to do adulthood with no support after age eighteen. She got through college. She’s a keen and sensitive and instantly warm and safe person to be with. I loved hoofing up a hill with her.

She’s at this beautiful juncture of spiritual growth and discernment, spending a year with a lay religious organization to live in intentional community. I heard her stories of how she reflected and processed her life’s traumas…how it’s shaping her vocation and her faith life. She’s working with low-income people with mental illnesses; it’s a way for her to give back to a population that includes some of the close family members that she was unable to continue living with as a child.

She moved across the country to plunge into service, seeing the same kinds of wounds that had rent her own childhood.

Are you that brave?

What’s your Selma? I walk alongside people with physical disabilities and chronic diseases that make this march a painful one. People who were accustomed to serving others now need to ask for a ride, seek reasonable accommodations for their limitations, and continue to advocate for their own accessibility when their bodies are so achy and worn out after miles and miles.

Are you that brave?

What’s your Selma? Meandering along, I hear snippets. Stories of unplanned pregnancies, divorce, poverty, immigration, job burnout, accidents, diagnoses.

There are people here from places we may easily, viscerally associate with the scary or backward or regrettable things in America.

“Where you coming from?”

“I’m from Ferguson, Missouri.”

“South Side.”

“The Bronx.”

“Mississippi”

“The ghetto.”

Yet those geographies have produced a vibrant group of committed, large-hearted, engaged citizens. Our country is better for each of them. Our country is better for our Selmas.

All this weaving into a place that was once one of the toughest, the scariest, the most violent in America. It’s bringing out those dark corners in all our lives.

Last night Dr. Bernard Lafayette talked about what we would learn on the march. “It’s an emotional education,” he told us. You can watch footage, read books — but you will learn what you need to about the march by marching.

But perhaps like James Bevel, it’s not that we know exactly what we want to do and how to do it when we GET to Montgomery…it’s that we’ve got a long stretch of road…and the solidarity of community…to think it and walk it out.

What’s your Selma?

“Mommy, what if you get hurt?”

I’ve been sharing this anecdote, courtesy of my four-year-old daughter, B. with some of the folks I’ve been walking with.

In the month before coming to Alabama to participate on the march, I spent quite a bit of time and effort to help my older daughters to understand a bit about the importance of the Voting Rights March and why it left from Selma.

Of course the catalyst for this was the brutality visited upon Jimmie Lee Jackson, his shooting, the need for him to be transported from Marion  where the night march that turned violent took place, and his death.  Jimmie Lee died in Selma, because there was no hospital that would treat Blacks where he was shot. That desperate night car trip to get him help was in vain.

I wanted my girls to know that Jimmie Lee Jackson had tried to register to vote many times, and that he was protecting his mother and grandfather when he was attacked. I found myself explaining that hospital care was segregated.

“Mommy, what if you get hurt on the march?”

I reassured B. that it was a different time, that I wouldn’t do anything dangerous with Baby E; that my march, in this century, would be peaceful.

“But if you got hurt, you could go to the hospital, right?”

“Yes, kiddo.” I tried to be reassuring

“But what if Daddy got hurt? Could HE go to the hospital?”

She continued, “What if I got hurt? Could I go to the hospital?” 

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