Rev. Beth Chronister
I recently returned from a pilgrimage in which I walked from Selma to Montgomery, following in the footsteps of the 1965 March on Selma. I walked with a small interfaith and multiracial coalition from all over the country through an organization called Heartbeat Journeys. The pilgrimage occurred over the 54th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in which some 300 black marchers, led by now senator John Lewis and Hosea Williams, were violently attacked by white state troopers and locals who had been deputized to respond to the march with brutal force. The group was marching in response to a young black vet, Jimmy Lee Jackson, having been recently shot and killed by a white state trooper as he tried to protect his mother and grandfather. They were marching to the capitol of Alabama in memory and for justice. The video and images from Bloody Sunday went all over the nation on the evening of March 7th and inspired hundreds of faith leaders to arrive to Selma in solidarity, responding to a call from Dr. King. Among those who arrived to Selma were many UU ministers including Rev. James Reeb, a white minister from Massachusetts, who was attacked by white supremacist and later died from the injuries inflicted upon him. This too was a catalyst as the nation watched closer and closer to what was happening and pressure was mounting for the march to be permitted to happen. On March 21st, following a court decision to allow the marchers to make the journey to Montgomery and President Johnson federalizing state troops to stand guard against from further attack, thousands began the journey to the Montgomery. They walked 54 miles in 5 days and by the time they arrive to the capitol steps, Dr. King addressed over 25,000 people who had gathered in strength and solidarity.
If you were alive at this time, what do you remember these days of action and transformation? Do you remember how you felt? Do you remember what people said around you? Did you feel called to do something then or later on in your life?
As pilgrims in 2019, we were marching to remember all of those who bravely marched and organized for Civil Rights, Voting Rights, and Black Freedom. We were marching in the footsteps of Rev. Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, CT Vivian, John Lewis, and thousands of others. We were walking in memory and in gratitude. It was stunning to feel so close to the places and people and to realize how recent these events actually are. It was humbling and eye opening to listen to stories about the very real violence that was a constant threat to people within the Civil Rights movement and the terrorism of black folks in the US that extends back centuries. I realized once more how much I do not know. As we walked along the roads and in the countryside, we shared our own stories about race, racial identity, and waking up to injustice. And as we did this, I began to realize that the Voting Rights March ended on March 25th 1965 and paradoxically, it continues still. It continues in the movements for freedom, human dignity, and collective liberation. It lives on within the communities of people who continue to courageously act for a more just and loving society. And it will continue on for many years to come. As we were told on the last day of the pilgrimage, “this is urgent, generational work.”
Rev. Beth Chronister, Minister of Justice and Care, University Unitarian Church