Tag Archives: Civil rights

MEMORIAL DAY’S MISSING NOTE

It’s good to remember and honor those who died in our many wars. However, as some of us know, the good is often the enemy of the best. We have recently observed Memorial Day. Through television, we have seen memorial services, both large and small, near and far. Through thousands of speeches, we have been encouraged to remember the fallen. Yet, there has been one supremely important note missing from most speeches.

Perhaps, if we are open-minded enough, we can learn from the Civil Rights Movement how to memorialize people. They fought a war for justice, equality and fairness. They fought it by using nonviolence. Yet, that war cost them dearly in terms of pain, suffering, and death. They built memorials to their heroes; people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Fred Shuttlesworth, and many, many others who were a part of the struggle for civil and human rights. You only have to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum to see many of the relics of that struggle. One of the best displays is the burned Greyhound bus, from which freedom riders (who were nothing but young college students, both black and white, male and female) were pulled out of the bus by an angry mob and unmercifully beaten.

Across the street from the museum is the 16th Street Baptist Church where you’ll find a memorial for four little girls who were murdered in Sunday School by a bomb planted by a hate-filled racist.  In the park directly in front of the museum, you can see the bronze statues of vicious dogs and water cannons that were used on the demonstrators, including the children. Those memorials and speakers who speak about those days normally don’t leave out the most important note, which is a statement, a statement that says loudly and clearly, “Never again! Never again!”  Never again white-only schools, white-only restrooms, white-only water fountains, white-only movies, white-only restaurants. Never again being forced to sit on the back of the bus. Never again being denied the right to vote by racist trickery or racist redistricting. Never again having to get off the sidewalk for white people. Never again!

Shouldn’t this same missing note be sounded loudly and clearly for those who honor our war dead?  Those who died in the War Between the States, World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and on and on the list goes. Don’t we have enough white crosses in our cemeteries? Don’t we have enough people without arms or legs? Don’t we have enough veterans so terribly shocked by the gruesome horror of war that they can’t function in society? Isn’t it time we say never again to war?  Isn’t it time we learned to solve our differences without constantly going to war? Shouldn’t we be saying at our war memorials, never again!

I know some of you are thinking we’ve got to defend our country and our freedom. The sad truth to that widely-believed statement is that no country in the world has been a serious threat to the United States of America or to our freedom since December 7, 1941. Shouldn’t we be saying loudly and clearly, never again!

Robert G. Wilkerson, D.Min., is a minister, writer and co-founder of People For the Christian Way. drbobwilkerson@bellsouth.net. PeoplefortheChristianWay.com

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ANOTHER DAY OF INFAMY, September 15, 1963

My eyes puddled with tears and they began to trickle down my face, faster than I could wipe them away. Soon, they became a solid stream that I could not hide from my children, who saw me crying and came to comfort me. They sat on each side of me on the sofa, put their arms around me, and asked, “Why are you crying, daddy? What’s wrong? What’s the matter?”

I was crying because I was watching the live television coverage of the aftermath of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Firefighters and emergency workers were going through the rubble. Then, it was announced that four little girls, about the same age of my own children, had been killed in the blast.

When I told my children that a church had been blown up and four little girls had been killed, they immediately asked, “Why, daddy? Why?” I struggled to answer that question. Finally, I told them there were some mean people in the world who hated black people, and they were the people who had bombed the church.

I have continued to ask why on a deeper level. I believe several factors brought about the bombing. The Jim Crow laws contributed to the hatred that led to the bombing. Those laws separated us, whites from blacks. They required separation in schools, restaurants, movies, waiting rooms, on public transportation, in hospitals, and even water fountains and restrooms. Shamefully, churches segregated themselves, by their own choices. The outcome of all the separation was most white people did not know very many black people, and vice versa. There were no interracial friendships, conversations, or understanding.

Into this gap in knowledge and understanding, white supremacists, and other hate groups joined in spreading misinformation and vicious lies. They said black people were dumb, lazy, shiftless, and immoral. The Klan spread the lie that black men lusted for white women, and that they were the noble protectors of their honor. The lying and malicious talk was multiplied many times over. Many ignorant white people believed the lies, and not liking or even hating black people became easy.

In those days, violence was rampant in Birmingham. The demonstrators were marching, pushing the segregationist’s envelope, and defying the law. The police and fire department were pushing back, trying to stop them, using billet clubs, vicious dogs, water cannons, and paddy wagons.

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church became a prime target for the Ku Klux Klan. It was a meeting place for Civil Rights Movement leaders such as Martin Luther King, Fred Shuttlesworth, and Ralph Abernathy. It was where students trained for the Children’s Crusade and many other protests and marches. It was the general headquarters and a haven for Birmingham Civil Rights marchers and protesters. All of these factors, and then some, came to a head with the bombing of the church.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt referred to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, when he said, “This is a day that will live in infamy.” That day now has company. September 15, 1963, when the church was bombed and four little girls were killed is another day when it can be said, “This is a day that will live in infamy.”

Dr. Robert Wilkerson is a minister, writer, and founder of People for the Christian Way, an organization whose mission is to encourage all people to practice Christian principles in business, politics, and every area of life. drbobwilkerson@bellsouth.net, http://www.peopleforthechristianway.com