Living Legacy Day 7: February 17, 2009
Paying Homage, Breaking Bread
By Jim Key
Unitarian Universalist (UU) Living Legacy Civil Rights Pilgrimage
We have visited gravesites of fallen martyrs, heard emotional first-person accounts of the foot soldiers of Civil Rights era, and witnessed the impact of that struggle on families of the selfless activists. I have been educated by the museums, inspired by the music, and awed by my fellow pilgrims. Moreover, I have lost sleep for the past six nights on how to process what I have observed on this pilgrimage and integrate it into the work that calls us as Unitarian Universalists to bend the moral universe towards justice.
Today we broke bread with the good folks of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church outside Philadelphia, MS, and heard the story of the night the Ku Klux Klan waited for a meeting, centered on registering Black voters, to break up. The Klan attacked some of the congregants as they were leaving the church and then burned the church to the ground.
Three voter registration workers, two white and one black, who had made inquiries of the church members after the attacks, were reported missing several days later, after the Klan members had been arrested, jailed, and released late on the evening of June 21, 1964. The bodies of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman were discovered in an earthen dam on August 4, 1964. While the families wanted them buried together, Mississippi segregation laws would not permit it. We prayed and sang over the grave of James Chaney this morning.
With this as backdrop we heard from Leroy Clemons, the President of the local NAACP chapter. His comments about how Blacks, Whites, and Native Americans came together 40 years after these horrific events to claim their history and learn how to work together as a community, to learn from the past, were stirring. We also heard from Hollis Watkins of Southern Echo who, as an activist from the Freedom Summer days, is applying the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement in building bridges to the future in economic, environmental, political, and social justice issues. His advice: Involve the youth of our communities. Teach them the lessons of the past, and harness their energy and creativity in our justice work. And sing.
I think I will sleep better tonight. The lessons of this day are becoming clear. There is work to do in my community, my congregation and my district. Now to spread the word.
Jim Key is a member of the UU Fellowship of Beaufort, and serves as the President of the Thomas Jefferson District. He has been on the Unitarian Universalist Living Legacy Civil Rights Pilgrimage. A version of this story appears on Gini Courter's blog, "Just Gini," and on UUFBlog.