SermonsCivil Rights movement

Our Great Southern Civil Rights/Visiting Friends Tour, Part V

One last stop in Georgia, then all around Florida

From the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum in St. Augustine, FL

After Montgomery, we headed to Lake City, FL for some downtime with my college friends Paula and Mark, but we decided to do a quick stop in Albany (pronounced al-BAENY), GA on the way. Using a willingness to face mass arrest, the Albany Movement had the ambitious goal of desegregating the entire city using the strategy of mass arrests. Sheriff Pritchett just kept sending them to jails within a 200-mile radius of Albany. Dr. King considered Albany a failure, but within two years of these arrests, the town was desegregated. Cynthia, our guide at the museum, was surprised that anyone had thought it a failure.

Cynthia kind of interfered with our plans to do a quick look around and then travel on to Lake City, five hours away. However, since she was brand new at the job, and we were the only people in the museum we didn’t have the heart to tell her we didn’t need a guide. When the time got to about an hour later than we had planned to leave, we had to tell her we weren’t going to tour the church, but we did get a selfie with her.

The sun was very bright. Cynthia does not have squinty eyes. She gave us the address of another good soul food restaurant: Flossie’s Soul Food Restaurant
2004 E Oglethorpe Blvd, Albany, GA
I was still full from eating at Antoinette and Selmar’s though.

Lake City Florida: Paul and Mark Moser

We arrived late afternoon at the Moser land. They hold about sixty acres jointly with Paula’s sisters, and it’s full of trails, trees, and gardens—what my friend Tony whom I visited on March 3-4 called Old Florida. I became friends with Paula and Mark when we went to Bogota, Colombia (gulp) 40 years ago for a semester to study Latin American History and Liberation Theology. I think when something transforms how you view the world, you are always attached to the people you were with at the time.

We went out for a 6:45 am walk the next morning with Paula and met up with two of her sisters. We stayed with Pam, the sister with the cane, when we drove from Bluffton to Miami on I-75 and caught the flight to Bogota.

Clockwise from top left: Paul and Michael talking about word games, with the mist rising on the pond in the background; cool fuzzy pink flower; Paula in Pam’s garden; Michael, Pam and Peggy; in Peggy’s house with her orchids; on the walk. Center: me in front of Paula and Mark’s outstanding azaleas.

After the intense learning experiences of the previous few days, hanging out with Mark and Paula in their hot tub, catching up on events of the past decade and just conversing with two interesting people was what we needed. I think they do retirement better than anyone I know. Paula has turned Michael on to a dizzying array of new games like Absurdle, Nurdle, etc., which he is enjoying. If we don’t see them for another 10 years, I know we will pick up right where we left off.

Again, please admire the azaleas. Paula and Mark were watching their grandson that morning, and he didn’t want to leave Paula’s arms, so we couldn’t get us all in one picture.

St. Petersburg and Tampa: Tony Treadway and Glenn Hasek

We spent a couple days in St. Petersburg where I reconnected with my friend Tony Treadway, whom I hadn’t seen for decades. He is working on a memoir and I’m helping him out with editing. Tony is spending his retirement playing in four, count ’em four, different bands. We also had dinner with my old college friend, Glenn Hasek, with whom I co-edited Bluffton’s college paper, The Witmarsum. He, his wife Miriam, and son Ben currently live outside Tampa in Odessa, FL, where he works from home, publishing Green Lodging News, a newsletter about environmentally sustainable practices in the hotel industry.

Did I remember to take selfies of either of these encounters? No, I did not, but Tony sent me the photo on the right after the fact. He sent me several and wrote

“The one with the tin foil – I put that on when the Tortugas perform the song ‘Alien Teenagers,’ and I tell the audience the foil prevents them from getting inside my head.”

Miami

Selfies aplenty occurred in Miami, where we visited Michael’s relatives and his daughter Beth. Interestingly. When I tried to find civil rights history that occurred in Miami, I found exactly nothing. Tony (see above) said that it’s the difference between Old Florida and southern Florida. Southern Florida was invented by PR firms, according to him.

Nohelia Jarquin is the daughter of the cousin of Michael’s first wife. He remains close to that side of the family, so “relatives” seems a good description for them. We had lunch with Nohelia, her husband Alejandro and their son Diego. Knowing how much Michael loved nacatamales, a Nicaraguan delicacy similar to, but more elaborate than tamales, she bought hime some frozen ones from a woman who made them, with instructions to boil them the next day.

These instructions left us with a conundrum: how were we going to boil them in a hotel room? After some thought, we bought an electric kettle at the St. Augustine Target, because we could use one at home, and used it to boil the nacatamales. They were superb.

Coral Gables: Beth Melissa, Eric and Eric’s Parents

We had a really good time in Coral Gables with Beth Melissa and her boyfriend Eric. Beth gave us a tour around the area, and Eric took us to his favorite Cuban restaurant, the Versailles. We also had dinner with Eric’s parents, Marta and Rubens Tabarley who were pretty much everything you would want in friends; I wish our conversation could have continued, but my back wouldn’t permit it. Marta is originally from Colombia and Rubens is from Argentina, but they have lived in Coral Gables for many years. Eric cooked us a traditional Asado. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten so much sausage before the skirt steak, but I did. If you are offered blood sausage, do not let the name keep you from eating it.

Of course, this event took place after weeks of my worrying that Michael and I would be presentable enough. Our lifestyle trends more casual than Beth’s does. If you zoom in on our picture with the you will notice that I got my nails done. Michael wore one of the new shirts he bought because Florida was warmer than he thought it would be.

St. Augustine

The ACCORD Civil Rights Museum is the type of repository most according to my taste, I’ve found. A small enterprise, run by enthusiastic volunteers with some surprisingly valuable historical artifacts. Our guide clearly regarded all of the objects with great affection, and spoke withpride about the dentists’s office, which houses the museum, having the first integrated waiting room in St. Augustine. (After our travels, I wondered whether it was the only one anywhere in the South during the 1960s.)

Dr. Robert Hayling, the only oral surgeon of any color for miles around, was one of the driving forces behind the St. Augustine Movement which influenced President Lyndon Johnson in his passage of the Civil Rights Act. Do you remember the film of a white man dumping acid in a swimming pool to get black people out of it? That was St. Augustine.

Our enthusiastic guide, Gwendolyn Duncan. Highly recommend.
Our guide said that this sign was from the original St. Augustine Woolworth’s.
Dr. Hayling’s presence is felt throughout the museum. One of my favorite stories about him was how he confronted one of the men threatening him, reminding him that he had performed major oral surgery on him the previous week.
If you can zoom in to read these ephemera, they make the arrests of students more personal and immediate.
St. Augustine was the only place in Florida where Dr. King was arrested.
The mother of the Governor of Massachusetts came to St. Augustine with goal of getting arrested. For some reason, Gwen found her to be especially amusing. She does (did) seem like a happy person.
Gwen highly recommends this book to get a wholistic view of St. Augustine in 1964
Dr. Gordon was Dr. Hayling’s partner in St. Augustine.
But no matter how accomplished Dr. Gordon was Lincoln National Life would not sell him insurance because he was not “Caucasian.” There are some other interesting ephemera in that case.
The sign from that hotel where the manager dumped acid in the pool that movement young people were trying to desegregate.

The following eyewitness account of a Klan meeting in St. Augustine describes the threat that forced Dr. Hayling to leave town. I am putting them in full size so that you can read them easily.

Gwen pointed out this church as the church where King and other civil rights leaders met to strategize for the St. Augustine Campaign–and the plaque there confirmed it. However, when we walked back to our car, we noticed another church across the street claimed the same thing. I imagine several churches were involved.

I think the next blog will be the last.

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Our Great Southern Civil Rights/Visiting Friends Tour, Part IV

Atlanta—February 26, 2020

The most cynically overused quote by Martin Luther King. At the Martin Luther King National Historic Park in Atlanta.

From Clemson, we drove to Atlanta, where we stayed with our friend Billie and spent a couple of dinners visiting with her daughter Stephanie.

Billie, left, and Stephanie, right. They are the mother and sister, respectively, of our friend Jalil Muntaqim. Jalil was released in October 2020 and lived with us for seven months afterward. I didn’t write about it, because we all thought it best for him to keep a low profile. Maybe when he finishes parole, I’ll have more to say. But you can check this out
in the meantime.

We did not see all the Civil Rights History-related sites in Atlanta; that would have taken a week. But we figured learning what it was like for Billie and Stephanie to be the only black family living in Skyline, Utah was living Civil Rights history. Also, waiting almost fifty years for their Black Panther son and brother, whose trial the FBI meddled with, to get out of prison counts, I think.

We confined our official civil rights touring to the Martin Luther King National Historic Park one afternoon. Ebenezer Baptist Church, his childhood home, MLK and Coretta Scott King’s tomb, and other significant landmarks all lie within the boundaries of this park.

We noticed that all the historic landmarks and the interpretive center were closed due to Covid, but for some reason, the gift shops at each place were open.

These engraved quotations by MLK Jr were harder to read in person than they are here because I upped the contrast a whole lot when I edited the photos.
Gandhi’s teachings on nonviolence. I’ve kind of gone off Gandi because of Arundhati Roy and my former work supervisor from Meghalaya, India. The real hero who took on the caste system was Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, they say.
The Martin Luther King “I have a dream” World Peace Rose Garden, which contains reflections by children on the speech. See lower middle square. Given the most recent war in Gaza, I was particularly moved by the poems by Gazan children.
We weren’t allowed to go into Ebenezer Baptist, but I bought a couple of fans with a picture of Martin and Coretta looking like newlyweds at the gift shop. I look forward to using them this summer
Coretta Scott King, laying down some truth.
Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King probably have the most beautiful final resting place ever.
MLK’s birthplace, home while he pastored Ebenezer, and a typical architectural style in the neighborhood–all very close together.
Walking in the footprints of the faithful witnesses who came before me I learned that Congressman John Lewis had big feet for a small man; Bishop Desmond Tutu and I had the same shoe size, and no way am I going to stwith wwwep on Maxine Waters’ footprints!

I found it hard to leave Billie, currently spitting Stage 4 cancer in the facewith great joie de vivre. Thinking about coming back in the summer.

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Our Great Southern Civil Rights/Visiting Friends Tour, Part III

We thought we were here for the friends but if you look past all the football paraphernalia stores, you see people working for civil rights and the restoration of history.

From right to left: Our friends Peter (who wrote the definitive biography of Howard Thurman),
Jane (a genetics nurse Ph.D.) Orrville Vernon Burton, who worked for voting rights in the 1960s and is
having to do the same now 60 years later, Michael and yours truly. Jane and Peter were having a good time,
despite appearances.

When we visited our friends Peter and Jane in Clemson, SC, we assumed the visit would be heavy on the friends part of the tour and light on the civil rights. But due to Peter’s career as a professional historian, we did find a civil rights—or maybe “human rights” is a better term—connection.

It all began when Peter (or Jane—I forget)said that the university had probably built its football stadium over the graves of enslaved people.

Clemson Stadium, aka “Death Valley,” due to the prowess of its Tigers team. Maybe they
should keep the name, given it’s probably over a graveyard.

Peter then told us an African American literature professor on campus had led the effort to remember the lives of enslaved people who lived on the John C Calhoun plantation, which became the campus of Clemson University, built by convict labor. The graves of these slaves and convict laborers are marked by flags, or spray-painted circles on walkways around the campus.

Next day, we accompanied Peter to the Clemson Campus to check out what was going on there. Peter was the perfect tour guide to explain, in the era of Black Lives Matter, how the school was navigating between its Board and its faculty what to do with buildings named for enslavers and racists.

Old Main, also known as Tillman Hall, which faculty pushed to rename because
Senator Benjamin R.“Pitchfork Ben” Tillman was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Person.
Black and white head shot of Nancy Washington Legree, an enslaved woman who worked in the John C. Calhoun Home that still stands on the Clemson Campus
Thomas Green Clemson was a Confederate officer and ran a forced labor camp with the
people he enslaved.
The “integration with dignity” happened after its first black student sued Clemson
in federal court for admittance into the University.
This sign was the compromise between the trustees and the faculties. Tillman’s actual
name would come off the building, but they’d put up this plaque alluding to his repugnant attitudes and behavior.

When Peter suggested we tour the home of virulently pro-slavery John C. Calhoun, my first reaction was I didn’t want to be one of those people who toured plantation homes. But Peter encouraged me, saying the exhibits inside were not that kind of Old South nostalgia. We were both surprised, however, by how not-that- kind-of-nostalgia they were. Peter hadn’t been on campus for a while so the narrative of enslaved people who had lived on the plantation/campus was new to him.

But first, we had to learn more about this guy.
I’m using big pictures so that you can see the tags with magnification.

At the end of our Clemson campus/plantation/forced labor camp tour,
we paused to reflect on what we had learned next to a building name for
Strom Thurmond. Some people think he had a conversion experience later in life. Others
beg to disagree.

Another important thing I learned that day: my ankle, broken at the end of June,
could now walk more than four miles.

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Our Great Southern Civil Rights/Visiting Friends Tour, Part III

Greensboro and Chapel Hill

From Charlottesville, we drove to the Woolworth Museum in Greensboro. In 1960, four young men sat at the lunch counter at the Woolworths and asked for service. They did so for months until the store, experiencing staggering economic losses, quietly caved.

Michael standing in front of the Greensboro Woolworth’s/International Civil Rights Museum

The museum doesn’t allow you to take any pictures, and it didn’t sell any postcards of the pictures I wanted to take, most significantly the wall with the names of all those who died participating in the struggle for civil rights. For those who are interested in going to the museum–the film that they show you at the beginning of the self-guided tour pretty much tells you everything you will see in the museum.

Have you ever heard of the Greensboro Massacre? It sounded familiar to me; my thoughts went to something labor-related. Michael and I were both shocked to learn it happened in 1979 when I was a senior in high school. It started out as a “Death to the Klan” rally sponsored by the Communist party in a low-income housing development. The Klan had been trying to divide workers along racial lines that the communists had been trying to organize in the textile factories. Well, the Klan and the Nazis showed up and killed five of the rally participants—with the collusion of the Greensboro police, as it turns it out. When the police finally turned up, they arrested the rally participants. As part of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2004-2006, the city agreed to erect a memorial to those slain at the housing development, but so far, just this plaque marks the event—Marker J-28 in the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program.

We had dinner that night with friends of Michael, who had decided they preferred North Carolina weather to Rochester weather.

Chrissy told me to smile after I took the first one
The names of the beers on tap were fun

On our way to Chapel Hill the next day we stopped to see a friend who used to live in Canandaigua and who also does not miss the snow.

Behind us in the red brick building is a very Whole Foods sort of store, but more community-conscious.

In Chapel Hill, we discovered some significant human rights events. Heard of the freedom riders who de-segregated the buses in the South? What dates come to mind? Well, these folks were doing it in 1947 and were put on chain gangs for their resistance. Respect to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the brave citizens of Chapel Hill.

The North Carolina Office of Archives and History put this up in 2008

Chapel Hill had its own sit-ins, but high schoolers set off the movement here in 1960 instead of college students.

Love me some Direct Action
I was literally standing in front of this monument, when a passerby asked me what I was looking for. He silently pointed to it when I replied.
I thought these kids deserved a close-up.

We spent the night in Hickory, NC with Michael’s friends Kathleen and Kevin, who showed us lovely hospitality, and of course, I forgot to take a selfie of us. I also didn’t find much in the way of sites in Hickory that marked the Civil Rights movement. But I did find a thesis on the desegregation of Hickory High School.

On our way to Clemson the next day, we decided it was time for us to participate in another southern tradition. Verdict: my waffle and Michael’s burger were tasty.

The sun was very bright.

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Our Great Southern Civil Rights/Visiting Friends Tour, part II

Plaque on the armory where John Brown made his last stand. Storer College was established
for Black students in the 19th century.

Catoctin Furnace

The next day, February 19, we stopped in Maryland to see the Catoctin furnace, where excavators had recently uncovered the graveyard of enslaved people who worked in the furnace.

The plaques included the work and lives of enslaved people.
The photo above the poem is what the cemetery actually looks like. We were unable to see it.
Names of enslaved workers at the Catoctin furnace
I took this picture and the following picture from the viewing platform. As you can see,
nothing resembling the slave cemetery is immediately visible.
Plaque on the viewing platform for the enslaved peoples’ cemetery.

Harpers Ferry

After Catoctin Furnace, we spent the remainder of the day in Harpers Ferry with our friend Jane from DC and visited the site where John Brown tried to start the war to end slavery. I was surprised that the armory where Brown made his last stand was so small. Of all the arsenals in states where the war was fought, John Brown’s Fort, as people came to call it, was the only one to survive the Civil War. When it fell into disrepair, Alumni from Storer College, a school for black students, restored it.

Our Great Southern Civil Rights/Visiting Friends Tour, part II

Plaque on the armory where John Brown made his last stand. Storer College was established
for Black students in the 19th century.

I should mention that Harpers Ferry itself is what people call “charming,” all cobblestones and scenery. Jane enjoys visiting there because it’s along the Potomac River and full of hiking trails. Most of the town is National Park Area.

Below are some plaques at the site. It’s good to keep in mind that John Brown thought he was on a mission from God to free enslaved people because he understood the miseries under which they were living. The young people with him were in their late teens and early twenties—university students who thoroughly believed in this mission.

The Kennedy House

Four miles away from Harpers Ferry, the Kennedy House is preserved as the site from which Brown and his comrades left early in the morning to launch their raid on the armory.

All the people who were with John Brown. Notice their ages.
A closer look at the Kennedy House.

Reflections? I still believe in the power of nonviolence. And obviously, the Underground Railroad was largely a nonviolent enterprise. But given that the life of an average enslaved person, once he began working in the sugarcane fields, was seven years, the mass rapes of slave women, the torture of enslaved people with impunity. I do not condemn John Brown. The fault of the Civil War lies with people who did not care enough about the lives of enslaved people from 1619 onwards.

Charlottesville

On our way to Greensboro the next day, we decided to stop in Charlottesville, VA, because a high school friend of Michael’s is the rabbi of the synagogue there. But before our meeting, we stopped to see the place where Heather Heyer was murdered by a white supremacist who drove into a crowd of people who had come out to protest the 2017 “Unite the Right” Rally.

James Alex Fields, Jr. injured 35 other people in addition to killing Heyer. Fields, 20, had previously expressed neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs, driving from Ohio to attend the rally. In 2019, state court convicted him for the first-degree murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, eight counts of malicious wounding, and hit and run, sentencing him to life in prison plus an additional 419 years. Fields also pled guilty to 29 of 30 federal hate crime charges to avoid the death penalty, resulting in another life sentence in June 2019.

Heather Heyer, ¡Presente!
She had a street named after her
People keep refreshing the Heather Heyer memorial when the city or
unsympathetic individuals try to remove it.

At the Charlottesville courthouse is a plaque commemorating John Henry James’ lynching. Like many of these plaques, the Equal Justice Initiative was responsible for erecting it.

Rabbi Tom Gutherz had more than 15 minutes of fame after the “Unite the Right” Rally in 2017. All the major news organizations wanted to know how his congregation had fared when Nazis surrounded their synagogue. His congregation decided the only irreplaceable items in the temple were sacred items they had adopted from a Jewish community destroyed in the Holocaust. So they removed these from safekeeping, but besides that precaution, they were in the streets with those standing against the rightwingers invading the town. Tom is also active in interfaith activity with area clergy. You can read some of his thoughts here.

Tom wants people to know he’s not as severe as he appears in this accidental GIF.
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Our Great Southern Civil Rights/Visiting Friends Tour So Far

A couple of years ago, after noticing we had a critical mass of friends who had moved to the south, Michael and I talked about taking a long vacation. We would visit historic Civil Rights locations while visiting these friends. This year, we decided to make that vision real. Since our self-imposed itinerary has taken up most of our time, I haven’t had much time to post. But as we travel I am going to try to share pictures.

On the evening of the 18th, we stayed with Michael’s friend from Habonim summer camp, Sarah Organic. Michael and Sarah have known each other since he was 15 and she was 13. I forgot to get selfies, but Sarah was gracious enough to send me these pictures.

Our time in Yardley, PA was mostly a friend visit, but we talked a lot about civil rights, and she took us on a drive to see some Underground Railroad locations.

Continental Tavern, Yardley, PA

African Methodist Episcopal Church, Yardley, PA

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Hearing about Pete Seeger in Palestine

I was imagining Pete Seeger’s death almost four decades before his mortality finally caught up withindex him.  Given as I was to melodrama and pathos in my teenage years, I imagined myself making a pilgrimage to his grave, via a freight train box car with my guitar, and then laying on top of his final resting place, weeping, at which point some like-minded devotees and possible family members would take me in and I would begin a new life as a folk musician/activist.

Why did I think such a scenario was likely to happen? Well apart from my being delusional, I’m sure part of it came from the Seeger persona arising from the albums I listened to until the grooves had worn thin.  I remember staring at the cover of The Children’s Concert at Town Hall album on which he is serenading a little girl in a pinafore on high stool and wishing with all my heart that I were that girl.  That he was singing to me.  I’m sure many children and adults felt that he was doing exactly that.  When he performed, when he led singing, he gave of himself in a way that eliminated the distance between performer and audience.  And when you read about his relationships with the various people he met as part of activism for civil rights and the environment, it wasn’t a far stretch to imagine that if you stopped by to see him while he was chopping wood, he might very well treat you as a friend. (And I guess my teenage delusions extended that to friends and family members.)

Many years later, after I started working for Christian Peacemaker Teams, I was listening to a tribute album put out by Appleseed Records in which various recording artists sang songs he had written or made famous.  One of them “Those three are on my mind,” about the murders of civil rights activists Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman I found particularly haunting.  He wrote in the liner notes about what it was like to be performing in a small southern church when news arrived that the bodies had been found.  And it hit me that at that time, no one in that church knew that the struggle for voting rights and an end to segregation would be successful.  In fact, it probably looked very far away.  But Seeger and the people in that church chose to keep moving forward anyway, even though they didn’t know how the struggle would end.

I wrote a column about this experience for the Mennonite Weekly Review and sent it to Appleseed records.  Months later, I received in the mail his songbook, where have All the Flowers Gone: A Sing-a-long Memoir, autographed with a message “Keep on…”  (And I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember the rest.)

My husband, knowing my affection for Seeger, bought tickets for the annual Western New York Peace Center banquet at which Seeger performed this fall.  He looked very frail, and his memory gave out a couple times when he was singing some of his old standards.  One delightful thing he remembered and sang as a tribute to his late wife, Toshi Seeger were the additional verses to “Turn, Turn, Turn” she had added for their children:

A time for work, a time for play
A time for night, a time for day
A time to sleep, a time to wake
A time for candles on the cake.

A time to dress, a time to eat
A time to sit and rest your feet
A timer to teach, a time to learn
A time for all to take their turn.

A time to cry and make a fuss
A time to leave and catch the bus
A time for quiet, a time for talk
A time to run, a time to walk.

A time to get, a time to give
A time to remember, a time to forgive
A time to hug, a time to kiss
A time to close your eyes and wish.

A time for dirt, a time for soap
A time for tears, a time for hope
A time for fall, a time for spring
A time to hear the robins sing.

It was Pete Seeger’s time to die; it was his time for peace.  I am writing from the Israeli-Occupied Palestinian Territories, and I do not see an end to the daily assaults on human dignity this occupation imposes happening any time soon.  But I choose to believe that those who care about justice and peace will overcome the efforts of short-sighted politicians who think only in terms of control and personal gain. I choose to “keep on. . .”

And I will remember that singing helps.

(Oh and just when you thought you couldn’t love him any more, you should know he donated royalties from “Turn, turn, turn” to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.)Facebooktwitterlinkedintumblr