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Activity time: 40 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Read online biographies of Viola Liuzzo and James Reeb using the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society's Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography.
  • Prearrange with a few volunteers to read aloud the events named in Handout 3, The Year 1965. If possible, provide the handout in advance.
  • Copy the stories "James Reeb and the Call to Selma" and "Viola Liuzzo and the Call to Selma" for all participants.
  • Post the Time Line of UU History from Workshop 1.
  • Optional: Access Jacob Lawrence painting, "Confrontation at the Bridge" on the Artnet website. Prepare to show it to the group or print out the image to pass around.

Description of Activity

Distribute Handout 3, The Year 1965 and invite volunteers to read aloud the events of the year, month by month. Add key events to the Time Line of UU History. Ask participants if they wish to add any personal events or memories to the time line.

If you have chosen to project or pass around the image of the Jacob Lawrence painting, invite participants to respond to the image. What feelings and ideas does it bring to mind?

Read aloud the text of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s telegram to clergy on March 8, 1965:

In the vicious maltreatment of defenseless citizens of Selma, where old women and young children were gassed and clubbed at random, we have witnessed an eruption of the disease of racism which seeks to destroy all America. No American is without responsibility. The people of Selma will struggle on for the soul of the nation but it is fitting that all Americans help to bear the burden. I call therefore on clergy of all faiths to join me in Selma.

Invite participants to spend two minutes in silence, meditating on the events of 1965, the Lawrence image, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s call. Then ask participants to share with a partner what they would have done had they received the telegram. Allow five minutes for paired conversation; then, ask people to return their attention to the larger group.

Introduce the information that two Unitarian Universalists died in the protests that took place in Alabama in 1965. Invite participants to share what they know about the lives of James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo. Allow a few responses, then distribute copies of "James Reeb and the Call to Selma" and "Viola Liuzzo and the Call to Selma." Read (or have volunteers help you read) one or both stories aloud. If you only have time to read one aloud, invite participants to then read the other to themselves.

Engage the group to consider the lives of James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, using these questions:

  • In which ways were Liuzzo and Reeb ordinary people? To what extent were they extraordinary?
  • Is a martyr one who dies for their beliefs? Or one who dies with their beliefs intact, with ideals uncompromised?
  • Do Liuzzo and/or Reeb fit your definition of a martyr? Of a saint? Is there a difference?
  • Do we all have a shot at sainthood?

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For more information contact religiouseducation@uua.org.

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