The following is a blog post sent to me by a friend, Jim Leickly. It’s a good read. I encourage you to sit down for a breather, take a few moments, and read all of it:
In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I’m reprising my blog entry of 4/20/07. Debbie, our daughters and I visited Dr. King’s Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama a couple years ago. We were fortunate to get into the church on that date because the church was closed. Luckily, a group that was being given a special tour invited us to come in.
That group was visiting Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham and other places as part of a civil rights tour. When the tour guide suggested a short video on Dr. King’s life and spiritual walk, our new tour friends balked and declined to see the video. They just weren’t interested in a video about Jesus and Jesus’ influence on Martin.
My family stayed for it and were amazed by the impact of the faith walks of Dr. King and each of those pastors that met in that church so many years ago to organize the Montgomery bus strike that started with Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white man.
For these pastors, their faith in God informed their beliefs and firmed up their resolve. Their prayers to God buttressed their courage. Their calls to the Holy Spirit gave them hearts that loved their oppressed brethren and, also, their brethren’s oppressors. Their reliance on their wise heavenly Father taught them that hate and ignorance could be combated with love and knowledge.
Surely, many other factors motivated many others of all backgrounds who bravely fought the good fight during the civil rights movement; however, there’s no denying the influences on these men and on the man who’s life we celebrate today. I couldn’t imagine examining the non-violent independence movement in India led by Gandhi, without studying the forces that shaped his life.
So, I guess, I wish the rest of the tour had hung around for the the video. It would’ve given insights just as valuable touring a church building, a famous bus stop or a bridge in Selma. I’m glad we hung around.
Here’s the 4/20/07 blog entry: “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity…” — William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
In the April 9, 2007 issue of Sports Illustrated, I was struck by an incredibly insightful story of the 1957 Little Rock Central High School football team – voted that year the best high school football team in the nation, but whose photograph – all white faces – does not even appear in the halls of that school nowadays. That’s because almost exactly 50 years ago the historic story of the “Little Rock 9” began.
Nine courageous African-American children integrating a school by walking through angry mobs throwing things at them and threatening to lynch them. It was so bad that President Eisenhower sent the 101st Division’s “Screaming Eagles” to Little Rock to protect these new students and keep the peace.
In the midst of this history in the Fall of ’57 was the mighty and undefeated Tiger football squad, ordered by their coach that getting involved in the turmoil would cause them to have to face another living hell – him. (An ex-Marine, even the Screaming Eagles jumped at his command. He had told the team on the day before preseason drills began: “Boys go home and give your souls to God tonight, because tomorrow your butts are mine.”)
The Tigers also knew that those from the Central student body who had befriended or merely shone the decency to talk to their new African-American classmates were branded traitors and “n—— lovers”. So the Tigers went out every Friday and demolished teams from as far away as Louisiana, Tennessee and Missouri. They were heroes on Friday nights, but from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. they did nothing more than keep their collective noses clean.
The SI story tells of a marvelous reunion where the ’57 Tigers met their ’06 counterparts (the majority of whom are African-American) to talk about their history. One of the current Tiger players asked, knowing that high school football players are also leaders in the school: “Didn’t you do anything?” The answer was the explanation: “You had to know the circumstances and the times we were in.”
To their credit, the current Tigers sympathized, mentioning times when they did not stand up, such as when the school’s only male cheerleader was being relentlessly abused. The writer puts this into wonderful context. Not an easy issue. Not easy to judge teenagers just doing what they were told.
He muses about what understanding could arise from the ’57 and ’06 Tigers sitting “elbow to elbow” and talking about what happened 50 years ago in Little Rock: No, not Hollywood’s or history’s version. Not what happened to the heroes or the hatemongers, not the black-and-white version. The story of the gray, the people in between, the majority that ends up drifting toward one side or the other and determining history, often without even knowing why.
The ones we need to understand most, because they’re us – the kids we likely would’ve been had we grown up white in the ‘50s in the South – and because we, too, might drift when our moment comes. Just teenagers, so absorbed in their search for love and identity that they hadn’t even begun to take stock of the injustices swirling around them, to understand the forces about to sweep them off their feet.
Teenagers just hungry to feel part of a group, the one that gave their town its greatest pride: its mighty football team. — Gary Smith, SI (Emphasis added.) “Following the line”, “staying out of trouble”, “not creating waves” kept the team in tact for their historic championship run, but it still weighs heavily on many of the ’57 Tigers, now in their late-60s. Their silence then bothers them a lot now.
What do we do when our moment comes? When we can stand for what’s right. When we can stick out our necks a little because someone else’s rights are being trampled. When the stranger, robbed and beaten, lays by the wayside, do we cross the street and act like we don’t see or, like the good Samaritan, stop and show what it means to show love? What it means to be what Jesus called a neighbor?
How do we not “drift when our moment comes” – and our moment will come. Albert Camus wrote a book, The Fall, in which the man who tells the tale is haunted by the memory of just walking and doing nothing as a stranger jumped off a bridge into the River Seine in Paris, committing suicide.
As the story ends and the person hearing this story is getting ready to leave. As he does, he is warned by his host: As you venture home, do not go near the river because if you do, there may be someone getting ready to jump into it to take his life. If that happens you will be faced with the impulse that you should jump in and save the man – but then you’ll reason that if you do, maybe you too will be taken by the waters and drowned and you’ll decide not to do it. The author tearfully concludes: “… and there’s something about a suppressed jump that leaves a heart strangely aching.”
Sometimes it takes a “strangely aching” heart to prepare us for a future crisis. When Debbie and I had our son Nathaniel in 1988 and were told he was dying, we never left his side. He was almost constantly in the arms of one of us, looking into the eyes of those who loved him most – finally, after several painful days, his brave struggle ended. As it did, he faded off to meet Jesus while in the arms of his sobbing mother.
Friends and acquaintances opined, “What are Jim and Deb doing? Don’t they know they’re making it worse for themselves? They’re becoming so attached, it would be harder to let go.” True, but in the crisis it was about our son, Nathaniel, not us. Just like in 1957, it was about the courageous and abused Little Rock 9, not anyone else.
Gratefully, I learned to be strong for my son after having a heart that “strangely ached” from past failures when my moment came and went. (Deb’s courage came more naturally than mine. She’s a mom.) In the movie Radio, the Ed Harris character tells a story to his teenage daughter that explains his stubborn inexplicable love and faithfulness to a strange town misfit, nicknamed Radio, who hung around the high school football practices. Harris, who played the football coach, remembers when he was a kid delivering papers and saw a dirty little boy locked in a pen beneath his parent’s front porch. “After that first day I saw him I walked by him again day after day, week after week, month after month and did nothing – told nobody,” he recalled.
Hopefully we will be girded for such times. That we will pray for the opportunity to make a difference to someone and God’s strength to offer a loving right hand or an encouraging word when it does. He’s put a hero’s spirit in us. Dennis Craft in his latest book recalls from the Lord of the Rings — The Two Towers movie, King Theoden, at his darkest hour as he is holed up and outnumbered at battle of Helmsdeep.
The King laments: “The days have gone down in the West Behind the hills into Shadow. How did it come to this? The fortress is taken. It is over. So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?” Aragon, calmly replies: “Ride out and meet them. For your people”. Gimli, the heroic dwarf warrior, notes: “The sun is rising.” Theoden, gaining courage from the words of his allies and sensing the coming of a new day, leads his men out on a desperate, but victorious charge against the enemy, crying out: “Yes. Now for wrath! Now for ruin! And a red dawn!”
(FOOTNOTE TO THE LITTLE ROCK SI STORY: In 1958, to thwart the federal court’s racial desegregation order. The governor of Arkansas came up with the “brilliant” plan to close all Little Rock schools, depraving all kids – white and black – of an education that year. The Sports Illustrated writer observes adroitly, “The opposite of integration isn’t segregation. It’s disintegration.”)
James R. Leickly, Attorney At Law 145 E. Rich St., 2nd Floor Columbus, OH 43215 See us on the web at: Leicklylaw.com