Reflecting on a Bit of History and the Civil Rights Question
In light of the discussion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I was struck by the following post by Alan Cross, a friend of mine and pastor of Gateway Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL: Church Under Siege.
In the post Alan recounts, in part, the events of May 21, 1961 and the assault on the First Baptist Church on Ripley Street in Montgomery, AL. For those unfamiliar, the church is not that far from the state capitol building.
The church was an African-American congregation founded by slaves in the 1860s. The assault in question was a response to a service being held to honor the Freedom Riders—persons who were testing the new federal ruling against segregation in restaurants and bus terminals. Opposition to desegregation was so great that the Riders were physically assaulted at bus stations in Birmingham, AL, for example.
How would you feel if you went to your church one Sunday night for a special gathering to talk about issues happening in your community, to sing songs of worship to God, to pray, and to hear preaching, and a mob of over 2,000 people surrounded your church throwing rocks, bottles, and Molotov cocktails through the windows and then turned a car over and set it on fire? How would you feel if you did not have any protection from the police or city or state officials? What if the mob began to beat on the doors yelling that they were going to kill you and as they threw objects through second story windows, broken glass was showering down on the women and children huddled together for protection inside the sanctuary?
Does this make you think of recent events in Orissa, India? Or maybe something that you would hear about in the Middle East or China or Russia during the days of Communism?
Unfortunately, this event happened in America. It happened in the Deep South, the Bible Belt – Alabama to be specific. It happened in the city where I now live and work and make my home, Montgomery, Alabama. It happened before we took prayer out of schools, before the Kennedy Assassination, before the Beatles came to America, before the sexual revolution and the gay rights and Hippie movements, and before Roe Vs. Wade. It happenened in 1961 when life was supposedly wonderful in America and we were full of family values. It happened in a state where 2/3’s of adult whites were Southern Baptists.
It is a stunning reminder of what life was like in the deep south not all that long ago and why Rand Paul finds himself facing criticism when he makes it sounds as if the problems that existed would have eventually worked themselves out without government intervention into private businesses.
I have no complex commentary on the subject, but rather I happened to come across the post this evening and it struck me given the whole Rand Paul discussion. I think that it is easy to be unaware or to under appreciate exactly what life was like in the deep south for blacks prior to (and even after) the civil rights movement took hold in this country. As such, reminders like this one are worth our consideration.