Monday, January 21, 2013

Dad & MLK

My dad wrote this because my Nephew had asked for Martin Luther King Jr. day and dad emailed out to everybody in the family...but it's good for everyone else to see.

Background:  In the spring of 1965, following an attack on some civil rights demonstrators, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. broadcast a national call for clergy and seminary students to join him in Selma, Alabama.  It was a call that struck many sympathetic chords among the students at Chicago Theological Seminary, where I was a student.  For some students there seemed to be no question that they would go to Selma, while other students decided not to go.  Sue and I talked a lot with Betty and Gary Massoni about whether he and I should go.  Because final exams were coming up, one of my concerns was whether going would mean that I would fail the exams and, in effect, waste an entire term/year of graduate study.  Finally, responding to Dr. King's call to support those working for racial justice overshadowed my educational worries.  I have never regretted my decision.  (And I passed all my exams when they came around later that spring also)

Because we had a VW bus which would hold more people than anybody else's car, that was one of the transportation vehicles.  Jesse Jackson was a member of my class at CTS, drove a Chevy Corvair which would only seat four people, but since he was going, his was the second car.  Gary Massoni and I shared driving the "bus" from Chicago to Selma except for a few miles that another fellow drove who didn't know how to work the "four-on-the-floor" and who I relieved after only a few miles of jerky driving that I was afraid might wreck the transmission before we could even get to Alabama.  There were ten or eleven of us from CTS who went.  The group included one woman student and Arnulf Kraft, an already ordained Lutheran minister from Berlin, Germany, who along with his wife Mona, was taking one year of study at the seminary.  

Digression:  Following their year at CTS, the Krafts borrowed our camping equipment and traveled to the west coast.  They showed up on my parents' doorstep in order to meet them.  Arnulf told me later that he didn't expect my father to be so tall.  We kept in contact with them following their return to Berlin and visited them there, along with Nancy, following my intern year in Scotland.  Their son Jakob lived with us in Ephrata for one year as a high school student.  We still exchange Christmas cards/letters with them and Jakob has been back to visit us several times.  He also calls us via the telephone at least once a year.)

Jesse drove his car leaving Chicago until we crossed the "Mason-Dixon" line into the "south."  Because the other three people in his car were white, one of them now drove and Jesse sat in the back seat.  He or someone else had told us that if Jesse had been in the front seat, at least as a passenger, that they would have been pulled over by the highway police.  Lastly, one of the seminary professors gave us his gasoline credit card to use on the trip down and back.

Now to the pictures.

1.  Brown Chapel, where we met for a "service/rally" before lining up in the street.  This happened a couple times each day.  When the service/rally was finished, we all lined up, five or six people wide.  We walked perhaps a block or so before those at the front of the line, led by Dr. King along with Ralph Abernathy, Howard Schomer (CTS president), and other more nationally know people, were confronted with the street blocked by police cars, three wide, covering the entire next block and fronted by policemen standing nearly shoulder to shoulder holding batons/billy clubs.  At that point everyone stopped and waited while the leaders spoke with the officers.  Eventually everyone was asked to kneel and someone up front said a prayer.  Then we continued to stand or sit and talked with each other, sharing our fears that the police would attack as they had other demonstrators, and sharing our hopes that our presence would bring some small step forward for racial justice.  After being in the street for from one to perhaps three hours, and not being allowed move forward, we were dismissed until we gathered again in Brown Chapel.  I spent most of my time with Gary Massoni and Steve Davidson, both of whom, along with David Wallace (who now also lives in Spokane) and a neighborhood woman, are in one of the later pictures.  The waiting on the street in front of or near Brown Chapel also included some night time vigils as well.

2.  Inside Brown Chapel, an African Methodist Episcopal Church.  In the middle of the picture you can pick out Martin Luther King, Jr speaking/preaching, encouraging everyone as only he could do.

3.  In the middle of this crowd, with his head tilted back, is a Jewish Rabbi.  Dr. King's call was not limited to Christian ministers; all faith traditions responded to his appeal and to his leading.

4.  The four of us mentioned in my comment about the first picture in this list.  This may be a good time for me to mention that everyone who had a clerical collar, or could borrow one, were encouraged to wear it so that the people and authorities in Selma could more easily recognize us as clergy.  Dr. King called for clergy to come because I am convinced that he thought the police would be less apt to attack clergy than other demonstrators.  Gary had a clerical collar (not wearing it in this picture but he did later) but I never found one to borrow.  When we were not in line, we were free to walk about in the black neighborhood; hence the picture on this woman's front porch.  Needless to say, we felt much safer in the black part of town and we did not venture out of that neighborhood alone or even in small groups.   

5.  Jesse Jackson is standing behind the woman whose name I cannot remember; don't think I ever learned.  In the middle is Ralph Abernathy, a close colleague of Dr. King.  The other man I also recognize but neither Sue nor I can remember his name; but he was another civil rights leader.

6  The avowed goal of our "march" was to walk from the black neighborhood, across the bridge that led into downtown Selma, gather at the steps of the courthouse, kneel in prayer led by Dr. King, and disperse.  It took four days before the authorities allowed us to do that.  This picture was taken as we were finally allowed to cross the bridge leading into town with police officers lining the route.  I thought the sign in the background was wonderfully ironic.

7.  I said earlier that Dr. King's call was responded to not only by Christian clergy -- the Jewish Rabbi -- but not only by Protestant clergy either.  These two Roman Catholic nuns dressed in their habits so that they could also be more easily identified.  I also have a picture of another sister who was wearing a different style habit; obviously from another order.

8.  This sign, nailed to a telephone pole near the chapel, says that everyone had to "register" their name, address, phone number, and who to case we were injured or worse.  While I was aware of the potential danger...I had seen the TV reports of the attack which precipitated Dr. King's call...this sign brought that possibility more forcefully to my attention than anything else.

Conclusion:  After four days of chapel services, standing in line but not moving forward, wandering around the black neighborhood/ghetto, and sleeping on the grass beside the VW bus, our assemblage was given permission to cross the bridge into downtown Selma.  Following the long-awaited march and its concluding prayer on the courthouse steps...the leaders/prayers were on the steps, the rest of us were gathered in the area before the steps...our CTS group decided that there was nothing more that we could do and decided to head back to Chicago.

Gary and I again traded off driving the VW bus which had eight people in it.  We drove through the night but Gary was so exhausted that he went to sleep and I could not wake him.  So I drove most of the way and over the the last several hours I was so tired from the release of the pressures and worries being in Selma, and the sleeping fitfully on the ground, that I experienced hallucinations while driving, even when we finally reached the interstate highway and all its lights leading into Chicago.

Some of our group went to bed and didn't go to class that day.  But I went to class...don't remember which one...took a page or two of notes on the professor's comments.  But when I looked at them the next day or so, I was unable to make any sense of anything.  Sue, Betty, Gary and I also talked together, Gary and I relating everything we could remember about our experience, and our wives telling about their concerns for our safety.  We have about eight hours of commentary on a reel-to-reel tape.  Sue has told me that she had a radio on her desk at work and stopped everything when anything about what was happening in Selma during those days came on the air.

After returning, I wrote a long letter to my parents and to Sue's parents explaining why it was important for me to have gone to Selma.  They both got my letter published in their local newspapers.

Lastly, I now liken my experience in Selma to the musical of Les Miserables.  Many, me included before I knew better, thought the barricade scene toward the end was part of the French Revolution.  Then I learned that it came before the Revolution began, a sort of prelude to it.  Similarly, the Selma march that I participated in was a sort of prelude to the Selma to Montgomery march that Dr. King led later.  

Addendum, in an email about posting this up from my mom:  
We showed the prints of the pictures at church yesterday and Hope [my niece, 9] helped me lay them on a table. I told her the pictures were almost 50 years old and she said, "but they are in color".

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