The Mid-America Disciples Civil Rights Pilgrimage lasted six days, August 8-13, 2019, and took 23 pilgrims plus a very engaged driver to landmarks in the Deep South. The first stop was Memphis with a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. The exhibit, as all that were encountered, was beyond moving. Every emotion from sadness, anger, frustration, dismay and joy was tapped. The exhibit began with establishing context for the journey, then took us to days of slavery, Jim Crow and every step along the way of the Civil Rights era defined as from 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education to 1968 at the death of Dr. King. Many people exclaimed, “Every person needs to experience this!” We are glad that the 2020 Disciples Summer Mission will be in Memphis and plans are underway to take Mid-America youth and sponsors there. The day ended with a “blues pilgrimage” to Beale Street.
Day 2 was encountering Living History in Selma, Alabama. We investigated every site and angle in Selma and were blessed that many townspeople provided firsthand accounts from 54 years ago since Bloody Sunday. Our day was beyond rich and concluded with our own march across the Edmond Pettus Bridge. By God’s grace, we ran into Rod West. His family lived adjacent to Browns Chapel AME, and were part of the movement that housed the leaders including the white “northern agitators” including two martyrs, James Reeb and Jonathan Daniels. Rod is the boy in the famous photo with Daniels prior to his death. We got lots of inside perspectives including from three white girls who were there.
Here is our group photo of Civil Rights Pilgrims standing in front Brown's Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama, headquarters of the voter registration movement and Pettus Bridge response after Jimmie Lee Jackson's murder by state trooper Klansmen. We were the talk of the town.
Our takeaway was the extreme sacrifice that enable us to vote today. People were beaten, bludgeoned, shot and murdered for what many take for granted. I hope you vote!!! The sad thing is how racists are succeeding in taking away voting rights today and making it harder if not impossible for people to head to the polls. They will continue until we muster enough people who care to vote them out.
Mid-America Disciples Civil Rights Pilgrimage Day 3: Living the Life and Death of Jonathan Daniels. A story from 54 years ago had the energy of 'presente' as 300 people gathered in an Alabama courtroom to unite for social justice. The saints and martyrs still guide us today. Testimonies and processing by people who were jailed, shot and closely connected resonated deeply. Dear spiritual friends Kerry Holder Joffrion, Zara Renander, and Dale Braxton were our spirit guides at Snow Hill Christian Church deep in Lowndes County.
Mid-America Civil Rights Pilgrimage Day 4: Montgomery. We were welcomed with overwhelming love at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. Our 23-person delegation was met by a 140 person strong Women in Red caravan from California. Many hugs were exchanged. What a worship! The National Museum for Freedom of Justice was next that revealed how horrors of our present-day penal system mirrors slavery and perhaps is worse than Jim Crow. The day ended with visiting Maya Lin's fountain at SPLC.
Mid-America Disciples Civil Rights Pilgrimage Day 5: Rosa Parks, Fred Shuttlesworth, 16th Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham. The Rosa Parks Museum was fabulous and is down the street from a beautiful fountain that sits on top of the slave market auction block. In Birmingham we had an incredible presentation at Bethel Baptist Church that give laser insight on how blacks were treated. For instance, playing checkers with a white or rolling your eyes would land you in jail and thus months of involuntary servitude in the mines or plantation. Children were not allowed in stores to try on school clothes... We don’t know the depths of life just a few decades ago.
Our delegation returned safe and sound. Now the work has begun. A pilgrimage has no expected outcomes but one who journeys must be open to be changed. Come hear our stories at a special sharing at Broadway Christian Church in Columbia on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 12:30.
Thanks to Regional Minister Paul Koch for this account of the trip.