J a n / F e b 2 0 0 1
Let's remember Selma's martyrs|
Let me tell you a story. The time is March 1965. The place, Selma, Alabama. Perhaps you already know this story. Indeed, all Unitarian Universalists should know it, for it helps to remind us of who we are as a religious people and what we are called to be.
A young African American named Jimmy Lee Jackson had been murdered near Selma while he was taking part in a voting rights action. In response, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called a nonviolent protest in Selma, asking the all-white police and public officials to protect all citizens and allow African American citizens to register to vote. When they reacted with brutality, King called the clergy of America to join him in Selma.
At 25 Beacon Street in Boston, the UUA director of social justice, the Rev. Homer Jack, and UUA President the Rev. Dana McLean Greeley helped spread the word to UUs and others. Among the first ministers to arrive in Selma were three Unitarian Universalists: the Rev. James Reeb, the Rev. Clark Olsen, and the Rev. Orloff Miller. On their first night in Selma, they were assaulted by a group of white racists. Reeb, brutally beaten, died of his injuries.
Of the clergy who eventually came to Selma, Unitarian Universalist ministers were there in vastly greater numbers than one would have predicted from the size of our movement. Laypeople came, too. Viola Liuzzo, a UU from Detroit, brought her car to help drive civil rights workers around the county. As she was driving one young man near Selma, Klansmen pulled alongside and shot her to death.
The Selma campaign was a turning point in the civil rights movement, sparking the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was passed after President Lyndon Johnson made a moving address to a nationally televised joint session of Congress, citing the Reeb murder as he made the case for the proposed legislation. I will never forget how powerful it was to hear Johnson, a white Southern politician, end his address with the phrase "We shall overcome."
Lest we Unitarian Universalists forget the heritage of Selma and of those who died there, we have decided to place a memorial on the wall of Eliot Hall at 25 Beacon Street. This is the room we use as a chapel, as well as for board meetings and staff gatherings. From windows near the spot the Selma memorial will occupy, one can look across Beacon Street to Augustus Saint-Gaudens's famous bas relief monument to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, the Civil War regiment of freed slaves led by a young Unitarian colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, and celebrated in the movie Glory. The Selma memorial will have a classic style, similar to that of the Saint-Gaudens piece. It will remember Jackson, Reeb, and Liuzzo by name. Below it will be a cabinet containing books and memorabilia, including a list Homer Jack made of Unitarian Universalists who marched in Selmaa list to which other names will undoubtedly be added, since Jack himself realized it was incomplete.
The Selma Memorial will help remind us that serving the cause of human rights with courage, working for justice with those of other faiths, and using memory to inspire hope are all aspects of our calling as Unitarian Universalists.
Contributions to the cost of the memorial by many of the UU clergy who went to Selma total nearly $8,000. But creating and installing the memorial, along with doing some needed renovations to the room, will cost a good deal more than that. A list of donors and honorees will be kept in a special memorial book to be housed in the cabinet under the memorial. Send donations to the UUA, marked "Selma Memorial."
Ours is a community of memory and hope. Our history is one of joining together to serve transcendent hopesespecially the hope that everyone might have the chance to help shape history, and not just be pushed around by it. May we always remember that.
President, Unitarian Universalist Association
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