Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma – cities that reek with the smell of anger, protest and bigotry.
Hard to believe and yet, this is what blacks endured in Alabama and other slave states for the last 150 years – prior to, during and after the Civil War. After watching the movie Mudbound and recognizing my own abhorrence to the violence of prejudice, I had to spend some time in Alabama – specifically Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham. So civilized today with integrated hotels and public facilities, it is hard to imagine that only 50 years ago, these cities were hotbeds of hatred and abuse. Fortunately, there are memorials that stand to remind us of our brutal history and to celebrate the heroes who overcame oppression without resorting to the same violence they endured. Amazing that anyone could adopt nonviolent civil disobedience as the defensive strategy to overcome hatred and abuse. But it led to the historic passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, during an administration of a Southern Legislator who became President in the most frightening period of lawlessness and destruction in my lifetime. Lyndon Johnson overcame his own prejudicial history, having been raised in Texas, to rise above his background and convince the Congress that all people must be treated equally by law – all people regardless of skin color, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or gender. Purity of race is no longer something to celebrate. We all come from the same source. All deserve equal treatment under the law.
My eyes turned away from the cruelty in the videos and recreations on display in Montgomery and Selma. The sound of police dogs barking at innocent demonstrators frightened with Billy Clubs and fire hoses made me cringe with guilt. How could anyone be so moved by hatred and fear that they would take out their detestation on other human beings. These victimized souls work, raise their families, pay their taxes, nourish themselves and want to live. What right does anyone have to take their freedoms away? How can they live with themselves after unleashing their anger and frustrations on these equal partners? It’s unconscionable and horrifying.
Have we come through this “transition” yet? Are we still in the neutral zone? Is there a new beginning ahead? We all thought there was when Obama was elected President. But unfortunately, we have slipped back into the ugliness, darkness and embarrassment of prejudice and bigotry once again. Will civil disobedience turn things around or is it time to fight back with the same power and energy that motivates the bigots? If that happens, we’re into another civil war and that isn’t a pretty picture. We can do better. We must.