Request a Professor's Review Copy
Stewart Burns



Come to Washington D.C.

Come to
Washington, D.C.
August 24th &
August 28th, 2013
(read more)

Four Girls Jubilee, September 15, 2013

Four Girls Jubilee
Call to Action
September 15, 2013
(read more)

Those of us around the country organizing the Four Girls Jubilee on September 15 are hoping for a groundswell of local commemorations of the Birmingham church bombing  50 years ago. These commemorative events will honor the four girls who died—Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair—and will open up conversations about racial justice, economic & environmental justice, violence against peoples of color, violence against women and girls, responses to terrorism, and all of the other interrelated crises like global warming & war that imperil our nation and our world. Each college, high school, place of worship, workplace, town or neighborhood gathering can create its own format and topics. Events might include facilitated dialogues, vigils, performances (e.g., dramatic readings, gospel singing, hip hop, poetry slams), or a mix of formats.

Southern novelist William Faulkner famously penned that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” True enough. But what does this really mean, in terms of the Civil Rights Movement in general and of the Birmingham church bombing in particular? What are the lessons that we might learn that we can apply to navigate the troubled floodwaters of today, our 21st century storm of crises?

The grassroots commemorations on the weekend of September 15th are an opportunity to explore and begin to apply these lessons.

President Obama seemed to encourage us with his comments yesterday on the Trayvon Martin tragedy: “I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching,” he said to a startled White House press corps. “There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race.” He was concerned that this might lead to posturing and political correctness and might not be all that fruitful. “On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces [and schools & colleges], there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest” in talking about prejudice and racism, sexism and homophobia, classism and ageism—and yes, Mr. President, our nation’s bad example in the world, especially in relating to the Muslim world.

Let me suggest three possible topics for constructive dialogue on lessons to be learned that tie the past to the present and to the future:

  • Although civil rights leaders, MLK and all others, were traumatized by the Klan’s terrorist attack on the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and though a few of those most committed to nonviolence were ready to track down the killers and kill them—revenge—the movement not only responded with amazing nonviolent grace but was somehow able to take the long view. They understood that such violence and terrorism would recur until African Americans could vote, hold office, and serve on juries. So out of their grief and fury they launched the final stage of the voting rights campaign that achieved the 1965 Voting Rights Act. How can we today keep our equilibrium and take the long view in our responses not only to terrorism at home & overseas, but in grappling with related issues of violence, exploitation, injustice—and planetary survival?
  • One of the strengths of the Civil Rights Movement was their feisty determination to “keep on keeping on,” to keep their eyes on the proverbial prize, to persevere patiently in the face of (apparent) impossibility, to keep hope alive no matter what. Their faith that they were living “powerful days” (MLK’s words) that could transform America. Although Dr. King found himself on the verge of giving up more than once, he held fast to his faith that the darkness of midnight (almost) always turns into the morning light, that the darkest hour comes before dawn—that we always have the power within ourselves to make a new beginning, to be reborn, individually and collectively. He challenged the ill of “give-up-itis” he found in himself and others, even the bravest. How can we empower ourselves to refuse to give up, to hold on to our faith that in the darkest hours we can plant the sturdiest seeds of renewal and regeneration? That in our dark times we too are living powerful days that can bring about the “great turning” that more and more people are talking about around the globe.
  •  Finally, how can we do better than our forebears in tying together the problems that imperil us, and convey more clearly to a wider public how the multiple crises that we face have shared causes in our violent culture, our inequitable economic system, our exploitation of the natural world, our chronic wastefulness. Toward the end of his short life MLK condemned the “triple evils of racism, poverty, and militarism.” How can we think about the perils we face as systemic—and if systemic, what does that mean about the tools we must use to overcome these perils and move toward the beloved community that we all deserve?

Leave a Reply