Thursday, January 22, 2009

Landmarks on the Road to the Inauguration

In response to yesterday's post there were some who replied that they were unfamiliar with the names and battlegrounds which I suggested could have been a more somber and indicting end to Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction.

Here is a thumbnail of the significance of those names and places.

Emmitt Till - a fourteen year old Chicago youth, who, while visiting his great-uncle in Money, Mississippi is beaten to death for allegedly whistling at a white woman. After being killed, his two white murderers, tie him to a cotton gin and throw him in a nearby river. Till's grotesquely disfigured remains are sent back to Chicago where his mother refuses a closed coffin funeral. Rather, she declared, "I want the world to see what they did to my son." The two men stood trial for the murder of young Emmit and were acquitted by an all white jury. Later in a LOOK magazine article for which they were paid, the two men confessed to the murder.

Emmitt Till's murder was said to have ignited the spark of indignation in black communities throughout the south.

Jimmie Lee Jackson - In 1965, during a late night mass march to the city jail in Marion, Alabama, Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed when nearly 10 state troopers chased marchers into a cafe behind Zion United Methodist Church. Jackson was shot as he attempted to help his mother while she was trying to protect her 82 year old father who was being beaten by the troopers. It was the Jackson beating that ultimately led to the Selma to Montgomery March which convinced President Lyndon Johnson to push Congress to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Medgar Evers - Medgar Evars, a Mississippi NAACP officer, was shot and killed in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1965. Evers was a courageous civil rights worker who worked tirelessly for voting rights in Mississippi.

Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner - three Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) voting registration workers who were killed and buried in an earthen dam for trying to register Mississippians to vote. Most of those accused of the murders, were only convicted on civil rights violations.

Viola Liuzzo - a white woman from Detroit, who participated in the Selma to Montgomery March. Killed by the Ku Klux Klan as she gave a ride to a black fellow marcher when leaving Montgomery.

James Reeb - white clergyman who was killed on 'Bloody Sunday' in the first attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery.

Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carol Robertson, Addie Mae Collins - the four girls who were killed on the September Sunday morning, when a bomb ripped through the 16th Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Birmingham - Perhaps the most famous civil rights battleground. African-Americans filled the jails in Birmingham, protesting for the citizenship rights. When it was no longer practical for adults to make an impact through marches and arrests, the children marched.

The pictures of fire hoses blasting children against brick walls and being attacked by vicious police dogs drew the attention of the world to the treatment of black people in America.

Montgomery - the site of one of the most effective boycotts in the nation's history. For 381 days, African-Americans protested inhumane treatment on city buses. The boycott was sparked when Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white man. It was this boycott that propelled Martin Luther King, Jr. to prominence as a leader in the battle for human rights.

Ten years later, King would return leading a march for voting rights from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery.

Selma - Selma, Alabama was the starting point for the march to Montgomery, Alabama. On what became known as 'Bloody Sunday', protesters are trampled by horses hooves, beaten and shocked with cattle prods, when they try and cross the Edmun Pettus Bridge. Among those beaten on that day, James Lewis, leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee(SNCC), and currently U.S. Representative from the state of Georgia.

St. Augustine - the night before the United States Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black and white protesters jumped into the swimming pool of the Munson Hotel, the motel owner pours muriatic acid into the pool.

Memphis - The city where Martin Luther King led his final march. King went to Memphis to help striking garbage workers. Men whose wages and working conditions were just barely better than slavery. Two men died, crushed in a garbage truck because, as black garbage collectors, they were not allowed inside the building used as a break lounge during a rain storm. King's first march degenerated into violence, primarily due to FBI plants in the crowd of protesters. King came back to lead a peaceful march but was killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, April 4, 1968.

These are just thumbnails. Landmarks if you will, on the road that Joseph Lowery took to Inaugural of Barack Obama. He could have taken the occasion to relate all of this and reminded us, through his blessing, that while grateful for a monumental occasion - we've not reached the Promised Land yet. Those who persecute and discriminate as a majority, today, carry out the cruel and criminal legacy of the violent oppressors of the past. Those who practice the soft bigotry of willful ignorance and naivete, contribute to the atmosphere which make the expressions of hate possible.

Until they embrace what is right the occasion which he blessed, can only be considered another installment on total victory.

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