This afternoon a group of fourteen youth and fourteen adults will embark on a pilgrimage to some of the holiest ground in our nation. We will journey to places hallowed by the sacrifices of countless women, men, and children through the ages who toiled under slavery, suffered the cruelties of segregation, endured the horrors of racial terrorism, and eventually led one of the greatest movements for justice our world has ever known.
Our group will visit places most people know as words in history books –Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Edmund Pettus Bridge, 16th Street Baptist Church, Central High School, Lorraine Motel. We will walk in the footsteps of saints, a few whose names are still remembered but most who are unknown but no less a part of the “great cloud of witnesses,” for they risked everything for the cause of true liberty and equal rights.
We will be led by Pastors Michael and Yulise Waters, who have been mentors to Transfiguration in recent years on matters of racial history. Four years ago they led a group of adult pilgrims from the Fig on a very similar trip, and upon our return, a parent in our church who has middle and high school-age kids wondered if we could repeat the experience, along with our youth. It was a brilliant idea, because the incredible truth is that the Civil Rights Movement was fueled in large part by the efforts of young people no older than the students going on this pilgrimage. They were kids, and yet they braved the picket lines, endured jailing, suffered brutal beatings, were snarled at and bitten by dogs, and even gave up their lives. Sixty years later and students still provide much of the hope and energy behind efforts to preserve the civil and voting rights gained at so much cost, which today are far too tenuous.
So, I give thanks to God that after three pandemic-postponements, we are finally embarking. I ask you to pray for us, and especially the fourteen middle and high school students who will soon come face to face with history, which is not nearly so far away as I grew up thinking. But in the words of Maya Angelou,
History, despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
A view of the new Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, Alabama