|photo by chloeloe / flickr|
The movies, “Selma” triggered all sorts of memories in this Southerner's life. Taylor Branch, who has chronicled the turbulent, courageous days of the Civil Rights movement in the sixties says of Selma: “Selma will engage the world’s conscience, strain the embattled civil right’s coalition, and embroil King in negotiations with all three branches of the United States government. It will revive the visionary pragmatism of the American Revolution.”
Selma is just one chapter in that wondrous story of a people who risked everything for the right to vote. Before the movement, only a small handful of black citizens could vote in Lowndes County. The movie tells of the struggle to gain that right.
But as I watched the film, they told the story of this white preacher, James Reeb, who heard the call of Martin Luther King. Dr. King challenged people across the country to come to Selma and stand with those black folks who were denied their basic right to vote. Reeb's name brought back a memory. Outside the dining room at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey I remembered a plaque I would pass again and again. The engraving said: “In memory of James Joseph Reeb Class of 1953. Fatally beaten at Selma, Alabama March 11, 1965.” And then the words: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Reeb, like thousands of others responded to the call to come to Selma. His first evening in Selma he was bludgeoned to death by a man with a baseball bat.
Reeb was only one of many, black and white that gave their lives to this great cause. Seeing James Reeb murdered on a street in Selma, reminded me of another sad civil rights story. Some time ago I visited the Gethsemani Monastery in Bardstown, Kentucky. A friend said, “I want to show you something.” And we walked through the woods, perhaps half a mile or more. And we came to this plaque.
Beyond the plaque was a sculpture of the three sleeping disciples. But as my friend and I moved up the hill we came to this powerful life sized statue of Jesus agonizing in the Garden. They called these pieces: “The Garden of Gethsemani.”
And I saw watched the film, “Selma” it dawned on me again that our struggles with race and unfairness are far from over. We thought all those hard days were behind us. Not so. We’re living in a strange time. Attempts are made all over this country to throw roadblocks which make voting harder and cumbersome. Those that have mounted this new crusade say they are saving the ballot box from voter fraud. Evidence proves otherwise. Who would have thought after all the struggles, heartaches and the killings—that we would be fighting this battle of voting rights all over again.
I don’t know where this will end. As usual, the opposition to voting rights for all our citizens is powerful, determined and well financed. I keep remembering that plaque in Princeton honoring James Reeb. Selma brought back that winding trail through the woods in Kentucky and how the young life of Jonathan Daniels was snuffed out for this cause. And I remembered the statue of the three sleeping disciples and thought about its appropriateness for our time. But I cannot forget at the top of that Kentucky hill where the stature of the weeping Jesus stood. But I also remember what the Southern writer Faulkner told us, “The past is never dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” I thank the filmmakers of “Selma” for reminding us of how far we still have to go.
|photo by talia davis using words from her grandfather's |
sermon after Selma march.