John Merrow posted a moving description of a trip he made with his wife and a group of others to the landmarks of the civil rights movement. In part 1, the group visited Mississippi, revisiting the scene of brutal murders. Part 2 is an account of their visit to Alabama, which included the Rosa Parks Museum, the church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor, and Dr. King’s home, which was firebombed.

 

This is an important history lesson, although for John and me and others of a certain age, the events are fresh in our memories.

 

I found this passage especially poignant, when John and the group visits Dr. King’s home:

 

He writes:

 

Visitors are free to walk into Dr. King’s small study, even to touch his books and his collection of LP record albums. To pick up the rotary phone and imagine hate-filled voices threatening the King family. Or sit at the kitchen table where Dr. King prayed for guidance late on January 27, 1956, when he was plagued by doubts.

I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”

 

Three days later his home was firebombed.

 

This is a must-read.

 

The night before John posted this, I spoke to a large group of Network for Public Education friends, and we discussed the present political situation, which is disheartening to say the least. We see a revival of openly expressed bigotry and a determination to roll back so much of the social progress of the past half century–in relation to race, climate change, labor, and education. I urged everyone to think of the civil rights movement. I cited John Merrow’s first piece, about Mississippi. He reminded me of those terrible times and how far we have advanced since then. We can’t go back.  I told my friends that the dark days ahead will not last. There will be another election in less than two years, and another one in four years. What we need to survive these years is to hold onto our vision of what is right and just. And to never lose hope. This is the lesson of the civil rights movement: courage, persistence, faith, and determination to stand up for justice, truth, and progress.