The following is presented in honor of Juneteenth, the traditional commemoration of the celebration that dates back to June19, 1865, when African-American slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned for the first time about the Emancipation Proclamation that had been issued to free them two years earlier. They decided that was a very good reason for a party and generations have kept it going every year since. For Part 1 of this blog please click here
For his part, Clay cautioned his Sunday morning audience that he was there to talk about neither the Jubilee celebration for which they had all gathered, nor the 1960s movement that decades later had spawned an iconic and charismatic new president. Instead, he said, he was there to discuss "the blessings of brokenness." Pointing out that "God sometimes gets his best soldiers from the front lines of suffering," Clay shared the very personal story of losing both his parents to cancer within the span of a few months in 2008. The nature of pain, grief, and healing empowerment that followed could have served easily as a metaphor for the history of African-Americans' journey from the brutalities of slavery to the hopefulness of the present day:
"...Refining occurs over time, and through situations, and circumstances and over and over we find ourselves broken in order that the old nature may be chipped away and the rough edges in our lives may be smoothed. And sometimes God has to let you experience a setback to set you down to set you up. Hello! Sometimes God will let you hit rock bottom, in order that you can see the rock of ages."
Clay's address was part of a series of events that included the Miss Jubilee Pageant, the Invisible Giants Conference, a golf tournament, a press conference on "American Slavery in the 20th Century: the Untold Story"; an Economic Empowerment Summit; an Intergenerational Hip Hop Summit; and a "Slow Ride from Selma to Montgomery" ending with a re-enactment rally in Montgomery.
At the same time Clay delivered his message of triumph emerging from the ashes of despair, others gathered several blocks away on Martin Luther King Street in front of Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church as they prepared to re-enact the historical march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The crowd stretched out in all directions from the bust of King on one side of the church's steps, and the Civil Rights Freedom Wall on the other.
One speaker after another encouraged the crowd to celebrate the victory represented by President Obama's election but at the same time cautioned against allowing it to make them complacent in the ongoing struggle for racial equality and social harmony. Reports on the ongoing rise of hate groups in the United States--up from 602 in 2000 to an all-time high of 926 thus far in 2009--demonstrate clearly that their point is not a rhetorical one. Among those on hand to commemorate the occasion and ultimately lead the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge were: Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Dr. Joseph Lowery.
An estimated crowd of more than 2,000 people poured onto Martin Luther King Street as the temperature climbed into the eighties. March organizers called for orderly conduct to allow the civil rights icons among them to--once again--lead the way. That someone should begin to sing the old freedom songs--"Ain't gonna let nobody turn me ‘round!"--was inevitable, and that others would join in was equally so.
Who could not stare with a sense of intimidation at the policemen lined up along the sides of the street and yet recognize with great awe that the role they were playing in 2009 was a very different one from the role their counterparts had played in 1965? Whereas those who came before them had been employed to inspire fear and inflict bodily harm, those now present were there to ensure safety and further confirm ideas of positive change sweeping through the country. In the past, the wielders of power and mayhem had been all white; in 2009, these guardians of justice and hope, like the Selma Community Church congregation, were integrated. In the past, television cameras had recorded activists falling before an onslaught of tear gas, billy clubs, and high-pressured water hoses; in the present, cameras recorded a celebration of a battles won, and of hope renewed.
For those attending the Jubilee for the first time, joining the marchers was much like stepping side by side with King and Williams and the many others whose courage and determination still vibrated through the streets and surrounding homes. For those who had grown up in Selma itself or attended the re-enactment march for decades, it could have felt as if time had stood still. The fact that it had not was particularly evident by Obama's face on the fronts and backs of t-shirts. Two years before, he too had walked these streets with former President Bill Clinton and then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton beside him.
Reaching the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers stopped long enough to hear announcements about the unveiling of the Bloody Sunday Exhibit, inductions into the Speakers and Voting Rights Museum Hall of Fame, and the struggles that had brought them all to that moment. As enthrallingly eloquent as the presentations were, the aroma of barbecued ribs, smoked turkey, and fried fish drew a number of marchers away from the assembly and off to the side streets where vendors sold everything from food and drinks to civil rights keepsakes, books, jewelry, artwork, and commemorative t-shirts.
Out on the river itself, fishermen in several boats focused more on potential catches than the activity on the bridge above their heads. This scene, too, was an indication of the "new day" about which members of the Selma Community Church had sang and preached because it demonstrated what citizens of Selma and so many others across the United States could not accept during the 1960s: that it was possible in America to protest social injustice without such protests deteriorating into murder. In the previous era, the flashing lights on the tops of policemen's cars would have been a signal to run for one's life. Now, on this day at least in 2009, and in this American township in particular, they were more like beacons flashing signs of faith in the possibility that dreams can not only come true, but they can actually create revolutions in the human heart and provide healing for the human spirit.
Causes Aberjhani * Supports
I make contributions to a number of charities through my lenses on Squidoo but the following are a few that interest me the most: