Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Signs of Our Faith: A Program about Being UU Every Day for Grades 2-3

Activity 2: Story - John L. Cashin, Witness for Justice

Activity time: 10 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Read the story to become familiar with it. Plan how you will use the photograph of John Cashin while telling the story.
  • Optional: Read The Agitator's Daughter by Sheryll Cashin, the daughter of John L. Cashin, or watch a CNN cablecast of her 2008 talk at the Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC; her father, who died in 2011, is present in the audience.
  • Optional: If you have a basket of fidget objects for children who will listen and learn more effectively with something in their hands, make the basket available during storytelling. See Session 1, Leader Resource 2, Fidget Objects for a full description of fidget baskets and guidance for using them.

Description of Activity

Participants respond to a true story of a UU ancestor who witnessed for justice.

Introduce the story with this background information, in these words or your own:

We are going to hear about John L. Cashin, an African American Unitarian Universalist. His story will help us understand how public witness is a sign of our faith.

John Cashin was born in Hunstville, Alabama in 1928. His mother was the principal of a school. His father was a dentist, and when John Cashin grew up, he became a dentist, too. Way before John Cashin was born, his grandfather had been a representative in the Alabama State Legislature. So, you see, his family cared very much about health, and education, and citizens taking part in government. You will see how John Cashin cared about those things, too, and how he showed it.

Tell or read the story.

Process the story with these questions:

  • John Cashin wanted to see African Americans get more involved in politics and government in Alabama. How did he encourage other African Americans to participate in politics? [By running for elections, he let the public see a black man participating as a candidate. He showed it was possible for African Americans to not only vote, but to publicly share their views about justice and other issues, and to ask for a larger role in governing their own town or state.]
  • Why do you think getting black people to participate in government was so important to him? [Blacks were underrepresented in public office; unfair laws and racist threats kept people from voting, and that is not fair; elected officials make rules and decisions for everyone, so it is not fair when a group of people is excluded from participating in making the rules for everyone; he knew it was wrong that, while his grandfather had been a legislator in Alabama, now there were no black legislators governing the state.]
  • When John Cashin ran for mayor of Huntsville, and then when he ran for governor of Alabama, he spoke at meetings, talked to the newspapers, and went on the radio and television to convince people to vote for him. He spoke out about laws and customs that were unfair to black people in Alabama. Do you think this is public witness?
  • John Cashin was a Unitarian Universalist, like us. So we know a little bit about his beliefs. Our seven Principles were his Principles, too. Which Principles do you think he cared about especially? [1st Principle, everyone is important/inherent worth and dignity; 2nd Principle, justice, equity, and compassion; 5th Principle, everyone should have a say in matters that concern them/democratic process; 6th Principle, working for a fair and just world]
  • We can do public witness in many ways. We do not have to run in an election to participate in public witness. Suppose we were members of John Cashin's family, or his UU congregation, during one of his political campaigns. What kinds of public witness could we have done to support his election or the justice issues he cared about? [Hand out flyers in a public place; talk to our friends about the issues; attend one of John Cashin's speeches and cheer for him.]
  • Suppose you have done public witness, such as participating in a rally or march, because an unjust law needs to be changed-but the law is not changed after the rally. Does that mean your public witness has failed? What should you do?
  • In 1968, when John Cashin formed the National Democratic Party of Alabama, there were no African Americans in the Alabama legislature, the law-making body of state government. In 2012, 22 percent of the Alabama legislature is black. This is close to the percentage of the total state population that is black. Black people hold many positions in local government, and the state elected its first African American woman to the U.S. Congress. It seems as if politics and government in Alabama include everyone much better than they did in John Cashin's time. But, there are still injustices that affect the lives of some African Americans in Alabama. John Cashin died in 2011. If he were still alive today, do you think he would be silent? Or would he be witnessing about other problems in Alabama?

Including All Participants

You may wish to make fidget objects available to children who find it difficult to sit still while listening or can focus better with sensory stimulation. For a full description and guidance, see Session 1, Leader Resource 2.

Consider using rug squares in the storytelling area. Place them in a semi-circle with the rule "One person per square." This can help control active bodies.