Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Selma Tales: Montgomery and Selma III

On the way to Selma we went through Montgomery.  One of our pilgrims, Richard Morrisroe, the former Roman Catholic priest who was shot with Jonathan Daniels in Hayneville, took the bus microphone and as we passed the hospital, he told of his harrowing experience after the shooting.  He lay on the ground in front of the cash store at least a half an hour bleeding before anyone was allowed to tend to him. He was transported to a hospital in Montgomery in the hearse that carried Jon's body.  He lay in a corridor without care for some hours before a Roman Catholic priest was able to
The Cash Store in Hayneville, AL
find a doctor who would tend to him.  Finally, it took 11 hours of surgery to save his life. I believe that Richard was in hospital for almost 6 months after that.  He was permanently marked by this incident.  He subsequently left the priesthood, became a civil rights lawyer, married a woman of color and has two wonderful children, one who is named Jonathan and several grandchildren.

I had met Richard on several other venues celebrating the life of Jon over the years.  He is mainly a quiet, thoughtful person.  He is still a strong Catholic, and I think finds himself rather bemused by the fact that he has been a part of the life of an Episcopal saint.  Later, in NH, I would hear him say that he knew Jon 'eight days in life and fifty years in death'.  He has been a ready witness to the death of Jonathan, willing to share this pilgrimage even though it was difficult.  

We arrived in Selma at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  There is now a National Parks Historical Center on the corner across
from the famed bridge.  Many of the pilgrims walked the bridge. It was a hot day and Judy and I opted not to.  We had done that before.  For several in the group that was quite meaningful and empowering. There was not much time to linger because we had been invited to lunch at St, Paul's Episcopal Church.

St. Paul's closed its doors to the marchers 50 years ago.  The Episcopal members of the march gathered on the steps of the church and praying that the doors and hearts of the people
would be opened.  Later, through the spring semester,  Judy and Jon would attend the parish taking with them children from the projects in which they were staying.  They were treated to really crude comments from 'good' members of the parish.  There was even discussion of destroying the chalice after the Black children received communion.  Judy, Jon, the children and few other African-Americans were only allowed to sit on the back row. Over the altar in the church are the words "He is risen, He is not here." But the group could only see a portion of the phrase..."He is not here." And agreed. 

The present rector of St. Paul's hasn't been there a year, but he was so welcoming.  They prepared a lovely luncheon and then spoke of the change of heart that the parish had come to. Several of the older members reminisced, but I had a hard time staying present. I realized that the deep Southern Alabama drawl still carries the weight of racism for me.  It took all I could to listen to the veiled excuses for their behavior 50 years ago.  It was hard to stand in forgiveness, and yet I knew that was where the heart of my pilgrimage was.  This pilgrimage wasn't about Jon; it was about me, about how privilege has changed me for good or ill.  

I had to step out of the remembrances for a bit just to catch
my breath. And when I returned the rector was making a presentation to Judy in the name of Jon for helping the parish grow.  A lovely trophy was presented.  It was the first time I have seen Judy awarded anything or even acknowledged for her work in Selma.  She has so often gotten lost in the mystique of Jon that people didn't realize the work she did.  Most of the photographs of Jon that are part of his story were taken by Judy and yet she is never given credit for them.  They now are copyrighted by others.  
EDS Pilgrimage 2015

We returned to Montgomery and went to the Civil Rights monument.  It is a simple fountain in the center of the city's government complex.  Designed by Maya Lin, the architect of the Vietnam memorial in Washington, DC.  There is a constant
sheen of water that flows over the names of the Civil Rights Martyrs.  Some of the pilgrims went to one of the churches, but I sat in the evening with a young priest I had met on facebook.  We talked of ministry and the needs of the Church in the wake of the racial issues that still face us.  

The bus was quiet on the way back. Later I heard that the trip to the church was quite a spiritual time for those who went.  I was still trying to reconcile my emotions in the face of the racism that I was still feeling and working through what that kind of exclusion says about us as Church.  

Even now, some weeks after the trip, I am still trying to allow myself to touch those hidden places in myself--I do not
believe that I find racism in me but I did find a growing dissatisfaction with the kind of privilege that I represent simply because of my skin.  I know that it has offered me things that I have not deserved simply because of the color of my skin.  It sets up barriers that I have worked hard to to tear down and yet at times it seems that not enough has been removed for us to know how to trust one another.  And so in my seventies I feel that 'separate' state that continues to break my heart. And yet I cannot give lucha continua...


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