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By Gini Courter with Annette Marquis, Rev. Charlotte
Cowtan, Rev. Hope Johnson, Janice Marie Johnson
Unitarian Universalist Living Legacy Civil Rights Pilgrimage:
we toured Selma, Alabama. Joanne Bland, co-founder and past
director of the National Voting Rights
Museum, led us.
We walked down the street to the site where three Unitarian
Universalist (UU) ministers—Clark Olsen, Orloff Miller, and James Reeb—were
attacked en route from dinner to Brown Chapel, where they were headed to hear
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s instructions for the next day. The ministers could
have turned left leaving the café to return the way they had arrived, but they
thought it would be faster to turn right. The shortcut proved
College students had painted a memorial mural on the side of a
nearby building to commemorate the event; later, we gathered around a memorial
plaque for James Reeb as Clark Olsen spoke about the attack and its
We were driven to Brown Chapel, and arrived at the same time
as members of the Buffalo Soldiers Motor Cycle Club, who were on their civil
rights pilgrimage. Neighborhood children looked on with amazement and pride as
over a hundred African Americans regally dismounted their Harley hogs and Honda
Gold Wings and crossed to Brown Chapel Church AME.
We followed Joanne Bland around the church to a concrete
slab: “Stand on the slab—not up there on that new stuff, down here on the
slab,” she told us. Joanne directed us to each find a rock, and a treasure hunt
ensued as we discarded shards of broken glass (“That’s not a rock!”) in search
of small pebbles knocked free from the concrete. She looked at the tiny rock
that Bill Sinkford held (“Mr. President, show me that rock”) and weaved a story
of her grandmother. Janne Eller-Isaacs’ rock magically brought forth Joanne’s
sister’s story. Hannah Eller-Isaacs’ rock prompted Joanne to ask: “Are you ready
for this rock? This is my rock.”
Then came the challenge: we could leave
our rocks there on the slab, or we could each take our rock, but we could not
take them lightly. If we chose to take the rock, we had to commit to stay in the
work, and hold on to the rock as part of our reason—to let the rock anchor us
in hard times.
As we walked away, Joanne laughed, “I’m going to have to get
more rocks. I know none of you are going to leave yours.” As it turned out, she
All the authors are participating in the Unitarian
Universalist Living Legacy Civil Rights Pilgrimage. A version of this story appears on
Gini Courter's blog, "Just Gini."
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Thursday, August 23, 2012.
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Joanne Bland talks with Rev. Bill Sinkford and Rev. Clark Olson at Brown Chapel in Selma.
Hannah Eller-Isaacs, one of the young adults participating on the pilgrimage.
The UU Living Legacy Civil Rights Pilgrimage
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