CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©
Bill Walters is retired now. He used to be head of the National Park Service. 60 years ago, though, he was just an Illinois kid on a bus in Alabama, on the way to basic training for the army. A couple of girls his age were sitting in front of him. The girls were pretty, and Bill was handsome, so naturally they got to talking. Eventually one of them asked him, “What do you think about the problem with the coloreds?” Bill allowed as he didn’t see a problem, since colored people were just like anyone else. Those pretty girls jumped up and screamed with their pretty bright red mouths to the whole bus, “We’ve got a goddammed nigger-lover on this bus!” After that bus experience, he said, basic training was a piece of cake.
On March 7 we commemorated Bloody Sunday, March 7, 60 years ago, when peaceful demonstrators in Selma, Alabama, asking simply for their rights as citizens to be voters, were attacked by police and civilians and brutally beaten. They were local black folks of Dallas County who had tried to register to vote, but were denied that most basic right of citizens. They wanted to march to the state capitol to appeal. They were not only denied the right to vote, but the right to walk.
They did get attention. Others came to help them, including the Indiana Methodist Student Movement. The Alabama Methodist Student Movement called us up and said, “We’re going to join the march outside Montgomery on March 24 and march into the city with Dr. King. Come and walk with us.” We did. I was the Methodist campus minister at Indiana State University and Rose Polytechnic Institute [now Rose-Human University] in Terre Haute. With my good friend, Andre’ Hammonds, the first black person to receive a PhD from the U of TN, a sociology professor at ISU, and Bob Mullins, the student president of the Wesley Foundation, I was on the third of the marches from Selma to Montgomery, the one that actually arrived, and heard MLK speak from the steps of the State House, on March 25.
My contribution to Civil Rights is so minor compared to so many others, like John Lewis, now Congressman John Lewis, who was in the front rank of that march. All I did was walk for a while in heat and fear. Like MLK and Jimmie Lee Jackson and Medgar Evans and Viola Liuzzo and James Reeb and Michael Schwerner and James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, and so many others, John Lewis put his life on the line.
In the fall of 2014 John Lewis spoke at Michigan State University. My granddaughter got in line to get his autograph on a copy of March to give to me as a gift. She told him that I had been there. “Please thank him for me,” he said. I have been thanked a lot of times in a lot of ways for many things. I appreciate them all, but none of them quite equal that vote of thanks.
There are still forces that want to deny certain people the right to vote, to deny them even the right to walk. Try being a black person walking in an expensive all-white neighborhood if you don’t believe that. There are still nigger-haters on the bus. There are still folks who can’t believe they are included unless they can see that others are excluded, who cannot feel comfortable in their rights and opportunities unless others are denied those same rights and opportunities. We need to love those excluders, assure them that they are loved and included, that they belong.
In the meantime, though, we can’t allow them to exclude others. No one has a right to deny rights to others. Love isn’t really love, peace isn’t really peace, unless they include justice.
John Robert McFarland
I googled Selma to check some of my facts. “Selma civil rights march” came up in the list after Selma Cinema 6. That’s either a sign of significant improvement or significant back-sliding.
You can read more about this in my book, The Strange Calling.
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]
I tweet as yooper1721.