Hope Johnson, a UUCSJ trip leader for the Civil Rights Journey, is the minister of the UU Congregation of Central Nassau in Garden City, N.Y. In the following post, she traces the path of the group — and the lessons they learned — as they explored the history of the civil-rights movement.
While en route to Selma, Ala., a pivotal marker of the civil-rights movement, we stopped by the grave site of UU martyr Viola Liuzzo. She represented the best of UUSC’s values when she answered Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for people to come down to Selma. She responded all the way from Michigan, leaving five children and a husband behind as she drove to Selma in her green Oldsmobile. We learned about her heroic efforts.
Then, onto Selma. We were a multigenerational, multi-faith group that came together as one as we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in silence and in reverence. We imagined the strength and the sustenance that were required to change the unfair voting rights laws. The people attempted to march twice and were turned back. It was the third attempt that was successful! We learned that perseverance matters. We witnessed the memories. We expressed the hope that abounds.
We visited the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute before celebrating our crossing. Our youth and young adults expressed their commitment to the work of dismantling racism, along with all of the “isms.” They understand the concept of linked oppressions. They are committed to sharing a newly discovered history — and not just black history that is celebrated during the month of February. No, they came to understand in our short time together that ours is a shared history. Everybody was at the table.
We visited Kelly Ingram Park, where we imagined the many young persons who fought for civil rights. Then onto the 16th Street Baptist Church, one of the headquarters of the civil-rights movement. This was the church where the “four little black girls” were killed on Sunday, September 15, 1963, at 10:22 a.m. when a bomb exploded. It is important that we remember their names: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair. We also learned that two young African American boys also lost their lives that same afternoon — Virgil Ware and Johnnie Robinson. It is ironic that the Sunday School lesson of that day was “A Love that Forgives.” Little did anyone know how soon that lesson would be tested.
Our group saw what I call “the beloved community,” right there in the South as we followed the route of the civil-rights movement. We learned that, along with many cities throughout the South, the City of Birmingham took to heart that Sunday School lesson on love and forgiveness. From what we saw, forgiveness has moved steadily towards reconciliation.
This past week, thanks to the UUCSJ Civil Rights Journey, youth and young adults experienced an opportunity for transformation that will last a lifetime. Each one has accepted the challenge to make a difference in our world. I hope that you will join us next time. See you next year!
Questions about the Civil Rights Journey? Contact us about this and more service-learning opportunities.